The Red Sox medical staff had performed enough MRIs, CAT scans, and X-rays to know what was left in Curt Schilling's right arm: not much. There was certainly debate in the organization about the merits of bringing him back for one more year.
Yet, even the skeptics hoped that at age 41, Schilling could simply do what he did in 2007: give the Red Sox a shot in the arm when it really counted, as he did upon returning last August after a lengthy shoulder-strengthening program. Even if it was another year of the finesse pitcher he had become, that seemed enough to get major league hitters out over six or seven innings and 15-20 starts.
The Sox could have offered Schilling a half-year contract, but the price tag ($8 million) for the full season was manageable.
Maybe the Red Sox didn't know Schilling would experience more pain in his shoulder in the offseason and that he wouldn't be able to strengthen it in time for spring training. But even the knowledge of Schilling's balky shoulder did not change the team's approach in the offseason, particularly on free agent prize Johan Santana.
The Sox really didn't want Santana, not for the outlay of young talent he would have cost. So they stayed in trade talks long enough with the Twins to know the Yankees weren't in it, then got out. They did so knowing they had depth - six starters - and were confident that Clay Buchholz, who would have been ticketed for Pawtucket, could slip into the No. 4 or 5 spot.
The way the Sox figured it, Tim Wakefield and Schilling basically would take up one spot in the rotation - between them, the Sox hoped to get a full season. They also have a rising young starter in Justin Masterson, or Kyle Snyder, or Julian Tavarez, who was their No. 5 starter most of last season.
Are the Sox a lesser team because Schilling won't be with them for at least half the season? Unlikely. Schilling isn't the workhorse he has been most of his career, and the Sox knew that. So the important thing now is that Schilling sticks to his strengthening program, gets over any resentment he may bear against the team for not authorizing surgery, and stays dedicated to his work so he can help the Red Sox down the stretch.
The Red Sox, like the Yankees, are transitioning to a younger pitching staff, building around a core of veterans in Josh Beckett (27) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (27), and they hope lefthander Jon Lester (24) becomes their Andy Pettitte and Buchholz emerges as their Jake Peavy.
If the transition is rough, the Sox have enough chips to make a trade. Cy Yound Award winner C.C. Sabathia, who will be a free agent in 2009, could be an option.
For a while, Schilling wasn't even in the Sox' plans. After what the Sox had seen from Lester in September and October, and Buchholz in September, they were not going to pursue a free agent pitcher until the Yankees tried to acquire Santana. The Sox merely kicked the tires on Erik Bedard and Dan Haren.
They believed shoulder surgery on a 41-year-old with a one-year contract would require lengthy rehabilitation and would not benefit the team.
Schilling didn't want to leave on a low note. He makes his home here. He has a business. To go against the grain this late in the game seemed counterproductive to what he's trying to build for himself and his family here after his career. He can still be a mentor to Boston's younger pitchers, a second pitching coach, a role he performed well last season. His teammates seem to like him, which hasn't always been the case in other places and in other times.
Schilling will attempt to give the shoulder-strengthening program another try. If he doesn't respond as well as he did last season, he has the option to walk away from his contract and have surgery to prepare for '09 with another team. There's no doubt the Red Sox would have preferred Schilling to start the season, but there are no shock waves on Yawkey Way. Both sides knew there wasn't much left in his right shoulder before all this came out.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.