Red Sox contemplate dealing John Lackey and potential of drastic change

July 29, 2014 - 7:05 am

The Jon Lester rumors seemed self-explanatory: Command a trade ransom for an elite pitcher who will be a free agent for the next two months, and for whom another dozen starts have virtually no value to a spiraling Red Sox team but plenty of worth to a contending team trying to find the discover the difference between contention and the possibility of winning the World Series. Given where the Red Sox are in the standings, they *have* to listen to offers to Lester and any other free agent. But the suggestion that the Red Sox are listening on veteran right-hander John Lackey represented a more surprising dimension in the rumor mill. After all, as Monday's brutal outing by Clay Buchholz underscored, the Red Sox have exactly one pitcher under team control beyond this season who offers some measure of reliability. Here's what Lackey has done the last two years: 2013: 189 1/3 IP, 3.52 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9 2014: 137 1/3 IP (on pace for 210 IP), 3.60 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9 That's a reliable rotation anchor. Lackey's not an ace, but right now, he represents a solid No. 2 guy in the rotation, and thanks to the unique vesting option at the major league minimum for next year, he is under team control for next to nothing. Naturally, there are indications that Lackey wouldn't be thrilled about the idea of pitching for rookie wages next year. ("There will be a lot of things to consider," Lackey said earlier this month about the idea of pitching under that option.) But Red Sox officials have said on multiple occasions that they'd be open to discussing an extension with Lackey (pure speculation: tag on an additional year beyond 2015 at the same $16.5 million average annual value of the five-year deal that he's completing, thus resulting in a two-year, $17 million deal that makes both sides feel like they received some measure of fairness) that would satisfy all parties. And while the Red Sox have a depth of potential big league-caliber starters, there are two issues with their promising corps of young starters: 1) It's difficult to rely too heavily on too much youth. Case in point: The Red Sox' 2014 lineup. Asking some combination of Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Workman and Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo (Henry Owens, scheduled to make what could be his last Double-A start today, is not expected to be a season-opening consideration for 2015) to fill three or four starting spots in next year's rotation is a recipe for chaos given teh relative inexperience and lack of track record for the group. 2) It's difficult to suggest that any of those pitchers has a high probability of matching Lackey's performance -- the combination of innings and effectiveness -- in 2015. Reasonable expectations for any relatively unproven player would be integration into the rotation in a back-of-the-rotation capacity. For that reason, Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen acknowledged on WEEI's Trade Deadline Show earlier this month that among the team's long-term interests was the addition of veteran starters to complement the emerging potential rotation members. "You're always going to look at your rotation and the depth in your rotation. You can never have enough starting pitching," said Hazen. "We're probably looking at some degree of change and turnover at various points. You're going to still look at that area of your starting pitching depth. ... That stable of young pitching, we probably want to make sure that's supported the right way. We'll look in that area." It's hard enough to figure out how the Red Sox might replace a front-of-the-rotation presence in Lester. The idea of replacing both Lester and Lackey is thus extremely complicated. That said, the Sox are at a point where they have to consider everything to position themselves for 2015 and beyond. If a team is willing to step up and offer a huge haul for a pitcher who would be available for multiple years, the Sox have to consider it. As much as anything, the idea that the Red Sox are -- according to industry sources -- open to the idea of dealing Lackey and Lester underscores the complex situation they're in. The team wants to be as good as possible for 2015, which requires some consideration of the possibility of smashing the club's current veteran core to bits and figuring out ways of reconfiguring dramatically. That won't necessarily happen, but the idea that Lackey is now at least a consideration to be dealt speaks to the very uncertain shape of the Red Sox going forward.