Boston’s Starting Pitching Options

Boston’s late-season slide isn’t so shocking when you consider that Red Sox pitchers have allowed 6.5 runs per game this month. With just six regular season games remaining, Boston’s lead has diminished to 2.5 games over the Angels and Rays. Baseball Prospectus still gives the Red Sox a 91.5% chance of advancing, but there’s zero doubt that Red Sox fans and front office members are unsettled by the team’s play.

The Red Sox made multiple inquiries about Chris Capuano, though it doesn’t appear that they’ll reach a deal with the Mets. Capuano would be ineligible for Boston’s postseason roster, but GM Theo Epstein and his front office are focused on the immediate future: three games in Yankee Stadium against the AL East Champions followed by three games at Camden Yards against the Orioles.

Jon Lester is set to pitch tomorrow, with 45-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield scheduled to take the ball Saturday and John Lackey and his 6.49 ERA set to wrap the series up Sunday. Clearly, there’s room for improvement. Ideally, the Red Sox would have been able to turn to Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who are injured, or Rich Harden, whose medicals scared Boston away, or a more productive version of Lackey. But those options aren’t there, so the Red Sox are looking at alternatives.

If they move on from Capuano to other potentially available starters, they aren’t likely to encounter many pleasing options. Pitchers like Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez aren’t clear upgrades and if the Red Sox considered Kevin Millwood a viable starter in the AL East, they would have held onto him earlier in the season.

They could ask Padres GM and longtime Red Sox executive Jed Hoyer about Aaron Harang, who has put together a nice season in San Diego (3.82 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9). No Yankee regular other than Russell Martin has had much exposure to Harang, and five of the team’s regulars (Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner, Jorge Posada) have never faced him in a regular season game, so the Red Sox would have the element of surprise on their side. But even if they were comfortable bringing a fly ball pitcher into Yankee Stadium, the third most homer-friendly ballpark in baseball, they’d have to convince the Padres to part with Harang. The sides have a mutual option for 2012 and Harang projects as a Type B free agent in the offseason, so he still has value to San Diego. 

There’s Javier Vazquez, the Marlins right-hander who has been pitching at the top of his game for the past half-season (1.93 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 1.4 BB/9 in the last three months). In theory, the Red Sox could bring him in to start in place of Lackey on three days’ rest Sunday. It would be a significant upgrade, but Vazquez has a no-trade clause and appears ready to announce his retirement, so it seems unlikely that he’d agree to uproot himself. Plus, it's not as if Vazquez has had much success in Yankee Stadium.

In other words, the odds may be on Boston’s side, but the trade market isn’t. It appears that their chances of reaching the postseason depend entirely on the players they currently have.

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