4 starting pitchers Red Sox could target ahead of MLB trade deadline

Amin Touri
July 10, 2019 - 5:39 pm

With the Red Sox rotation struggling to find consistency and Nathan Eovaldi moving to the bullpen instead of taking on a starting role when he returns from elbow surgery, Boston needs another starter.

The fifth starter has been an issue with several different players thrown into the mix as stopgap options but a long-term solution is probably the Red Sox’ biggest need at the deadline, assuming Eovaldi does help the bullpen at least a bit upon his return.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Monday that the Red Sox are in the market for a starter “sooner rather than later,” after Dave Dombrowski expressed his displeasure with the rotation performance over the weekend.

With the trade deadline exactly three weeks away, here are four starts Dombrowski might consider to bolster the rotation.

1. Zack Wheeler, Mets

The obvious name to start with, since the Red Sox are already reportedly in talks for him, Zack Wheeler is one of the top candidates to move before the deadline as the Mets look to sell in July.

Once one of the most exciting pitching prospects in baseball, Wheeler missed the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons and the second half of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, before bouncing back for a strong campaign in 2018. His velocity returned to its peak, with a newly developed splitter becoming an out pitch over the last two seasons.

The hard-throwing righty has been solid in 2019, posting a 6-6 record with a 4.69 ERA, in 119 innings, a dip in form from last season that may just come down to some bad batted ball luck. His strikeout and walk numbers are almost identical, but his home run per fly ball rate has nearly doubled, suggesting he’s come up on the wrong end of a lot of 50/50 fly balls that found their way over the fence.

Coming to the end of his contract this season, Wheeler represents a very solid rental option to stick at the back of the rotation.

2. Matthew Boyd, Tigers

A strong but rather unspectacular option, Matthew Boyd has been the best starter on a very bad Detroit times, quietly putting together his best season in the pros.

A big lefty who doesn’t overwhelm with velocity, Boyd is 6-6 with a 3.87 ERA in 2019, largely using a very good slider to generate swings and misses. He’s cooled off from an excellent start to the season, but has continued to pitch well and seems a likely candidate for a deadline move.

Boyd’s biggest issue is limiting homers — his 16.7 percent home run per fly ball rate is 22nd among 78 qualified pitchers, which isn’t terrible but isn’t great either. However, the southpaw’s excellent strikeout and walk numbers — fourth and ninth in per-nine inning rates, respectively — are very encouraging.

His hot season will make Boyd a more attractive option, and with his contract expiring at the end of the season, he’d be a short-term rental as well.

3. Mike Leake, Mariners

There’s a bit of a pattern here, with solid guys that don’t totally jump off the page representing the more realistic options for a Red Sox team looking for more of a fourth or fifth starter than an ace, a description that suits Mike Leake.

A smaller guy at just 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Leake is a groundball pitcher through and through — his groundball rate was fourth in 2017 and sixth in 2016 — relying on his sinker to get outs. That hasn’t been as successful this season, but he’s still 7-7 with a 4.32 ERA, working around very low strikeout numbers to post a decent season in Seattle.

Leake isn’t as promising an option as Wheeler or Boyd — a flamethrower with potential and a lefty in the midst of a breakout — but may be easier to acquire. However, with another year left on his deal at $15 million, much more than the previous two, Leake could be a last resort if Dombrowski can’t put together a package for a better option before July 31.

4. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays

This would qualify as a reach, since Marcus Stroman is probably the biggest name that could be on the market along with Madison Bumgarner — plus he’d be coming from a division rival — but he’ll probably be available and he’ll generate plenty of interest.

An even smaller righty than Leake, Stroman has put up a solid season in Toronto, a 5-9 record made worse by a bad team. Like Leake, Stroman is a groundball pitcher that relies on a sinker and a slider, with an occasional cutter, to get his outs. He doesn’t strike out many and can struggle with his command, but has led the league in groundball rate for two consecutive seasons and is consistently at the very top year after year.

His 3.18 ERA is one of the league’s better marks — though it can’t be stressed enough that ERA is not an end-all statistic — and he does enough to limit hard contact to be successful.

Another rental in the final year of his deal, Stroman would probably command at least a high a price as Wheeler, but would really help the back end of the rotation.