The Red Sox should have their new manager in place sometime in the next 10 days. A new coaching staff will follow and then general manager Ben Cherington will see what kind of magician he is.
John Lackey underwent Tommy John elbow surgery last month and will miss the entire season. Daisuke Matsuzaka had the same procedure in June. If he returns in 2012, it will not be until the second half of the season.
It will be up to Cherington to produce two more starters along with a few extras to stash in the minors for the inevitable needs that arise during the season. This task will be made more difficult for two significant reasons: the Red Sox lack major league-ready pitching talent in their farm system and the free-agent market for starters is one of the worst in years.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Cherington said. “We’re going to have to be creative.”
Cherington has tools to work with. The Red Sox have enough available payroll to make competitive offers to some of the second-tier free agents on the market. They also have the lure of available playing time for a contending team.
Despite the team’s September collapse and the controversies that surrounded it, Boston remains an attractive destination for free agents.
“There are options, probably not as strong as the bullpen and closer market, the way we see it. When you get past those top guys, there are options, but riskier and would require some sort of bounce back from injury or bad luck or performance to some degree,” Cherington said.
“We’re going to be exhaustive in looking at ways to build depth to the rotation and the bullpen. We do believe we have some internal options that will help us. But past the sort of top of the starters market, there’s a lot of risk there.”
Here’s a look at where the rest of the rotation could come from:
The leading option is Alfredo Aceves. The righthander is 2-1 with a 4.18 earned run average in nine career starts over four seasons with the Yankees and Red Sox. Aceves has been more effective as a reliever in his career but has long wanted the opportunity to be in the rotation on more than an emergency basis.
“We believe Alfredo can start and we’ve had some dialogue with him about coming to spring training prepared to be a starter and compete for a starter’s role,” Cherington said. “The ultimate role when the season opens is to be determined. But we certainly think he can start if the spot was there to be had.”
The Red Sox do not see Daniel Bard the same way. Bard has not started a game since 2007 when he was playing Class A ball a year after being drafted. Bard had a 7.08 ERA in 22 starts that season and was converted into a reliever.
“With Alfredo it makes more sense for him to come to spring training prepared to start,” Cherington said. “It’s something he’s done a whole lot of.”
Bard is more likely to become the closer with the departure of Jonathan Papelbon to Philadelphia.
Beyond Aceves the other internal options are not as appealing.
Andrew Miller had a 5.54 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP in 17 games last season. Kyle Weiland had a rocky debut, posting a 7.66 ERA in five games, three of them starts. He appears much more suited for the bullpen, a role he had at Notre Dame.
The Red Sox had what amounted to a collection of veteran spare parts in the rotation at Class AAA Pawtucket outside of Felix Doubront, a lefthander who threw only 80.2 innings last season because of injuries that could have been related to his arriving at spring training in poor condition. He will get a good look in spring training.
Alex Wilson, a 25-year-old righthander, pitched well for Class AA Portland before getting four starts at Pawtucket. Like Weiland, he profiles more to the bullpen.
Junichi Tazawa spent last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He is only 25 and has shown promise in the minors. He has a 7.31 ERA in 28.1 major league innings.
The Sox always could bring back Tim Wakefield. The 45-year-old was 7-8 with a 5.12 ERA in 33 games, 23 of them starts. He was 2-5 with a 5.55 ERA after the All-Star break.
The Red Sox will look into the top two free agents on the market, lefthanders C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle. But after giving Beckett (2010) and Buchholz (2011) contract extensions and making the mistake of signing Lackey for $82.5 million in 2009, a major deal is unlikely.
The 2011 Yankees provide a good blueprint for Cherington.
General manager Brian Cashman signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract on Jan. 26 and Freddy Garcia to a similar deal a week later. Colon had missed the entire 2010 season because of a shoulder injury.
For a base cost of $2.4 million, Colon and Garcia were 20-18 with a 3.82 ERA over 55 games and 311 innings. The Yankees were 29-22 in the games they started. With the assistance of their two scrap-heap pickups, the Yankees won the division by six games.
Colon and Garcia are back on the market this winter along with dozens of others. Somewhere in that group are two or three starters who could help the Red Sox return to the postseason. All Cherington has to do is find them.
The Red Sox also are not expected to make a run at Yu Darvish, the Japanese star who could be posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters. After what turned into a bad experience with Matsuzaka, the idea of spending another $100 million on a Japanese pitcher holds little appeal.
Note: This post was updated at 1:22 p.m. to include Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson. Please follow the links to each pitcher’s stats on Baseball-Reference.com. Obviously, we welcome your comments and any ideas you have in terms of free agents or trades.