Red Sox Rotation: Who Can Save the Season?

Before this season, I wrote that it was possible that the 2015 Boston Red Sox rotation "could be solid." With 32 games down ... no. No, it has not been solid. It's been terrible. Just ... terrible. If they expect to contend for a championship this year, they need help. Badly.

Going into Tuesday's game, the 5.63 ERA among Red Sox starters is the second worst in the majors – leading only the Rockies at 5.66. That's very, very bad. Also worrisome is the fact that the offense hasn't really held up its end of the bargain - the team's -11.3 offensive WAR (via Fangraphs) is 10th worst in baseball. Their collective OPS of .692 is ninth worst. At 140, they've scored the 13th most runs.

"Solid" was a best-case scenario for this rotation, and that would have been enough for the regular season with the best offense in baseball. But this offense still is capable of being the best in baseball. The team has some dynamic hitters all over the diamond.

So, what needs to be done to bring the rotation back up to "solid" or beyond? Old school and new school thinkers would agree – logically, you'd start at the top. Here are a few possibilities:

Cole Hamels
The most obvious target. His name has been levied in trade rumors for many teams since the end of last season, but perhaps none more consistently than the Red Sox. Initially, it was widely reported that the Phillies wanted both Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart. That is entirely too much. But on April 29, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote that the Phillies like Jackie Bradley Jr., Deven Marrero, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson.

Bradley, in particular, was called up for Sunday's game. With a strong showing in the majors, the speedy outfielder could draw interest.

Unfortunately, with season-ending injuries to players like Adam Wainwright and Brandon McCarthy, teams like the Cardinals and the Dodgers may jump into the already contentious mix.

Hamels' 2015 season has not been his best – his 4.3 BB/9 is a little less than double his career mark, and his acceptable 3.68 ERA is much worse than his FIP of 4.92 – but he's still striking guys out, and most teams would like to have him in their rotation for the remaining four years and $94 million on the contract (which will become five years at $114 million if traded to the Red Sox, to whom Hamels is allowed to block a trade, meaning he can demand they agree to pick up his team option to facilitate a deal).

Johnny Cueto
At 15-17, the Reds had an identical record to the Red Sox on Tuesday. Unlike the Red Sox, who would need only to catch up to the Yankees, the Reds have had to watch the Cardinals start their season 22-9. Their ace, Cueto, is continuing to build on two stellar seasons. So far, he is striking out 8.24 batters per nine innings while walking just 1.4. Sure, his low WHIP of 0.88 is aided by a 2.24 BABIP against, but his walk rate has consistently been low enough. A free agent-to-be, the Reds could definitely move him at the deadline if they don't narrow the NL Central gap or have a wild card spot within reach.

Scott Kazmir
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports said Saturday that Oakland was "not close to entertaining trade offers" for Kazmir, holding out hope the team could contend this year. But the A's are 12-22. In the MLB, only the Phillies have a worse record. And in this young season, they sit at nine games behind the surging Astros. So you'll forgive me for not believing for even one second that GM Billy Beane is not listening on a 31-year-old pending free agent who could easily net him prospects.

The lefty, whom the Red Sox know well from his days in Tampa Bay, is off to a strong start as his career resurgence continues. He's struck out 8.5 batters per nine, limiting walks to 3.18 (control used to be an issue for the pitcher, whose time in the big leagues has been a roller coaster that hands out barf bags). His BABIP against of .233 has helped him keep his WHIP down at 1.06 as he has pitched to a 2.78 ERA.

Carlos Carrasco
This is where we start looking at players less likely to be traded. The Indians' righty, with Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, took an enormous leap forward in 2014. And like Kluber and the Indians, he has been disappointing to date in 2015. Trailing the Royals by eight games, the Tigers by seven and even the Twins (somehow) by six, it's likely the sexy pre-season World Series sleeper is a seller at the deadline.

So, with a 4.71 ERA, why would the Red Sox want Carrasco? Well, his FIP is 3.01 (xFIP is an impressive 2.62), with hitters smacking him around at an unsustainable .356 BABIP. Carrasco is striking out 10.99 (!) batters per inning, walking just 2.51. His luck has, quite simply, been terrible. If you're looking for players likely to have more success as the season plays out, he's a safe bet.

Of course, Cleveland would be giving up a very good 28-year-old signed through 2018. They're unlikely to trade him. But Cleveland was expected to battle Detroit atop the AL Central. Below elite shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor, the team's only prospect to appear in Baseball America's top 100 this year, the Indians don't have the best farm system. They won't move Kluber, and the controversial, high-risk, high-reward arm named Trevor Bauer is probably more valuable to them than whatever return they would get. So with the team needing some type of shake-up, it's not impossible that they would listen on Carrasco.

Zack Greinke
This would require some creativity, but as dealing Dee Gordon and Dan Haren for Andrew Heaney with other prospects, then flipping Heaney the same day for Howie Kendrick, will show, the Dodgers aren't lacking in that department. Greinke has an opt-out clause in his 6/$147 million contract after this season. He also plays for an extraordinarily wealthy team that is willing to spend, and he owns a 1.52 ERA this year, striking out 7.4 per nine and walking 2.1 with a WHIP of 0.89.

So why would the Dodgers, now 21-10 and showing no sign of letting up, move him instead of giving him another boatload of cash if he opts out after the season? It would be an absolute shocker, but if they replace him with Hamels, it's not outside the realm of possibility. Since they are not on his no-trade list, the Dodgers can pay him for the remainder of this year and $70.5 million through 2018. Greinke will demand more than that on the open market. And whatever prospects they give up for Hamels, they can replace with their return for Greinke.

But will the Dodgers surrender what the Phillies want for Hamels? No way will they give up rookie outfielder Joc Pederson. Shortstop prospect Corey Seager and 18-year-old lefty phenom Julio Urias seem unlikely, but not impossible. A multi-team deal involving Greinke and Hamels could happen, too. Replacing an expensive-to-re-sign Greinke and Urias with a cheaper Hamels and, let's say, the Red Sox' Eduardo Rodriguez and either Rafael Devers or Deven Marrero could free them up to sign, let's say, David Price or Jordan Zimmermann before next year. And from Boston's standpoint, this would only make sense if the team were willing to sign Greinke to a huge deal – something they weren't willing to do for Jon Lester. But needs change. And considering how much they invested in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, pitching is a need that needs to be adressed in a big way.

Greinke being dealt from LA to Boston may be less likely than any of the aforementioned trade scenarios. It's farfetched, but shockers of that nature certainly happen in this sport. It would represent a massive and fascinating deadline shift. And that's the nature of the deadline. Teams will assess their needs, and whether they should focus on the present or the future, and make moves that impact the entire landscape of baseball. In July, we'll see some major moves. In May, it's really just fun to think about.

For all their follies, the Red Sox sit just two wins below .500 and trail the aging Yankees by just 5.5 games. If the team's current roster performs better than it has, and if it is able to add a true ace, its postseason aspirations could come right back to life.

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