The Red Sox have done well in the trade market this winter, obtaining righthanded relievers Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon for what amounted to assorted spare parts.
New GM Ben Cherington also retained David Ortiz and signed low-cost free agents Nick Punto and Kelly Shoppach to improve the bench.
But unless you are convinced that Daniel Bard will emerge from the bullpen and become a reliable starter, the Red Sox have done nothing to fix their shaky rotation.
The Yankees have seven dependable starters and the Rays six. The Sox have four if you count Bard. Superior math skills are not required to figure out the problem.
There is an obvious solution: sign Roy Oswalt. He is 34 and was limited to 139 innings last season because of a back injury. But Oswalt is agreeable to a one-year deal and would give the Red Sox some much-needed depth in their rotation.
Oswalt also would provide some leadership and professionalism to a group in dire need of those qualities given the shenanigans of last season.
Cherington first met with Oswalt’s agent, Bob Garber, at the GM Meetings in November. Oswalt was not a priority for the Sox as of a few weeks ago. But that was before the Yankees picked up Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda last week.
Cherington has waited out the market looking for value. But with less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, Oswalt represents the best (and most economical) opportunity for the Red Sox to compete with their divisional rivals.
The alternative is rolling the dice and hoping for something good to happen with Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook or Andrew Miller.
There is merit to the idea that the Red Sox could maintain whatever payroll flexibility they have remaining with the idea of making a trade for a starter in July. But is their rotation, as presently constituted, sure to keep them in contention that long?
There seems to be little chance that the Red Sox would spend the money to bring in the best free agent starter still on the market, Edwin Jackson. That would require a multi-year deal.
Here’s how it looks right now:
Projected rotation: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, TBD.
Other candidates: Alfredo Aceves, Carlos Silva, Andrew Miller, Aaron Cook, Felix Doubront, Daisuke Matsuzaka (out until at least July), Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Duckworth.
Analysis: The Red Sox will be fine if Beckett, Lester and Buchholz give them 600 innings. But that’s a stretch. Beckett has thrown more than 193 innings once in the last four seasons and Buchholz has never surpassed 173.2 innings. Bard, a reliever who threw 73 innings last season, has never started a major league game. The fifth starter remains a mystery.
Projected rotation: CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett.
Other candidates: Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances.
Analysis: The Yankees are seven deep with the hugely talented Banuelos waiting in Triple-A along with Betances. Sabathia (237.1) and Kuroda (202) went over 200 innings last season with Pineda (171) and Nova (161.1) showing resilience despite their youth.
Projected rotation: James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, Matt Moore.
Other candidates: Wade Davis, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Alex Torres.
Analysis: The Rays are six deep with Davis, Niemann and Moore expected to compete for two spots at the end of the rotation. Cobb, Archer and Torres are solid prospects waiting for a chance. The Rays have created a self-sustaining model of developing starters that is the envy of baseball.