Oswalt, Jackson intriguing options for Red Sox
Veterans have big league pedigrees, but also bring question marks
BOSTON -- Even if Daniel Bard's transition to the rotation goes smoothly, another reliable starting pitcher could make a world of difference for the Red Sox as they enter Spring Training.
Speculation and logic explain Saturday's trade of starting shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies as a way to free up some cash for starting pitching. Maybe that addition could be one of the two big free agents -- Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson -- still out there, or maybe it could be another low-key move, similar to what the Red Sox have done previously this offseason.
Clay Hensley, who can spot start, is available, as are Chris Young and Jon Garland and a slew of other pitchers with history of arm trouble. Rich Harden might be best served in the bullpen at this point in his career. Whomever the Sox have their eye on, even if it's via trade, the $6 million that they freed up by trading Scutaro should be enough to help facilitate an addition.
"If Spring Training were to start tomorrow, we'd feel good about where we are and [we'd be] ready to put the team together," general manager Ben Cherington said last week, before the Scutaro trade. "We think we have a lot of options to fill our pitching staff. There will be competition in camp, obviously, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. We think we have some options. We had some internal options; we've added to those."
The goal isn't only to find a fifth starter. "Pitching depth" is a baseball aphorism, but it was also a huge part of the problem for Boston in September. While it's hoped that Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and Bard will be available all season, there are always sore arms and disabled list stints here and there. That goes for every team.
Alfredo Aceves, Aaron Cook, Felix Doubront, Justin Germano, Clay Mortensen, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva could all be part of the in-house competition in Florida for the unclaimed starting job. If the Sox can bring in another pitcher who eliminates the question mark at No. 5, then Boston's front office can focus on constructing the bullpen.
"Well, we've done a lot of math on that, trying to add it up," Cherington said. "It'd be nice, I suppose, to have five perfectly healthy guys that you knew for sure would give you 200 innings every year. I'm not sure we've ever had that, and this year's no different. As I said, we feel really good about the front of the rotation. We feel like we have a collection of guys that can win jobs and help us and fill spots.
"We feel confident that both Bard and Aceves are capable of doing it. That's not to say they'll both definitely be in the rotation, but they're both capable and they'll be coming to Spring Training as starters. We've got other options, and we'll keep our eyes open as we get closer to Spring Training or even into Spring Training if there are ways to strengthen the rotation."
Jackson could bring the best guarantee of innings. He threw 199 2/3 in 2011 between the White Sox and Cardinals, then 17 2/3 frames more in the postseason. He cracked the 200-innings mark in the previous two seasons as well. Oswalt had been a virtual lock for 200 as well until last season, when a back injury kept him to 139 with Philadelphia.
If career accomplishment means anything, and it might on a veteran and contending Red Sox team, Oswalt probably brings the most to the table. He doesn't have a World Series ring like Jackson, who won with St. Louis last season, but he does have almost double the number of big league innings lifetime.
Both pitchers have big strikeout capabilities. Oswalt's velocity was down in 2011, but that could have been health-related. It follows, then, that the worry with Oswalt is his ability to stay off the DL, while Jackson's is inconsistency, particularly with his control. Jackson has walked 3.7 batters per nine innings lifetime, 1.6 more than Oswalt.
Oswalt has also never pitched in the American League.
Aside from financial considerations, the Sox would be stretching to bring many more arms into camp. There's a finite number of innings to be shared on the big league side, and it's counterproductive to spread them around too thinly. That makes a "sure thing" signing all the more attractive.