November 19, 2013

Tom Caron: Pitching-rich Red Sox not standing pat

If Jacoby Ellsbury or Mike Napoli go elsewhere, Boston has an abundance of pitchers for trade bait.

BOSTON – Tim Hudson?

When reports surfaced recently that the Red Sox had inquired about the 38-year old free-agent pitcher, it became immediately clear that General Manager Ben Cherington had no plans of letting his team rest on its laurels. Sure, Hudson (who is reportedly close to a deal with the Giants) is a quality pitcher who knows how to win big games. But why would Boston be looking at adding a starter?

As they currently stand, the Red Sox are loaded with starting pitching depth. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy make a pretty strong five-man rotation. Ryan Dempster doesn’t even crack the top five. And young arms like Brandon Workman, Allan Webster, and Rubby De La Rosa are standing by in the wings.

So why look at signing a free agent? Obviously, Cherington is doing due diligence on what is available on the market in case he decides to move one or more of his pitchers.

Teams are always on the lookout for pitchers, especially starting pitchers. And Boston’s list of proven veterans will draw a lot of interest as we approach next month’s MLB Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.

Cherington may need to move a pitcher or two to fill a hole in his lineup before the start of the 2014 season. There is a growing belief that Jacoby Ellsbury will garner significant interest from multiple teams and that agent Scott Boras will look to get him a contract worth some $150 million.

It’s hard to imagine the Sox going that high. Will they be content with Jackie Bradley Jr., taking over in center? Or will they move Shane Victorino over and add a right fielder?

Either way, they could address the issue by moving a starting pitcher.

They could also use a pitching asset to add a first baseman if Mike Napoli signs with another team.

Napoli has spent his post-World Series weeks cavorting in Boston, doing his best Brad Marchand impersonation, but his return to the Sox is no sure thing. Napoli was forced to sign a one-year deal after his degenerative hip condition was diagnosed a year ago. Now he’ll undoubtedly look to cash in. The Sox may choose not to match an offer if he gets three or more years.

Mike Carp could fill some of that void at first base, but the Sox may want to add some right-handed help there. Again, they could get someone through a trade.

They could also add help at short if they don’t re-sign Stephen Drew. Xander Bogaerts is clearly ready to play in the big leagues, but it’s unclear if the Sox view him as a shortstop or a third baseman. If they’d rather have Bogaerts on the corner, they could move Will Middlebrooks over to first base and trade for a shortstop.

Or they could put Middlebrooks into a package with a pitcher and make an even bigger splash.

For a reigning champion, the Red Sox are sitting in a position of strength when it comes to roster flexibility.

They could easily move Dempster or Peavy and hit the field with a rotation that is five deep and backed by some promising young prospects.

Or they could make a bigger splash and move one of their top three pitchers. Last year, they reportedly were in talks with Kansas City to ship Lester to the Royals for Wil Myers, who went to the Rays and won the AL Rookie of the Year.

The options are almost endless. And, while it’s hard to imagine Hudson wearing a Sox uniform next season, it’s not hard to understand why a team stocked with pitching is still keeping an eye on what other arms could be available.

Just in case.

Tom Caron is studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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