The Boston Red Sox may still be celebrating their 2013 World Series title, but GM Ben Cherington and his staff are already focused on what 2014 will look like. It’s incredibly early in the offseason and free agency is still just days old, but that hasn’t stopped the Red Sox from garnering a lot of attention. Their rumored interest in Carlos Beltran and potential negotiations with free agents such as Mike Napoli are interesting, yes, but the most intriguing item to watch as of now is their rumored interest in free agent starter Tim Hudson. The 38-year-old is coming off ankle surgery, but his recovery is said to be going well, and the Sox “really want him.”
This rumor gets interesting when we consider Boston’s current starters under contract: Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster, Clay Buchholz, Felix Dubrount, and John Lackey. Lester, the staff ace, will certainly be an extension candidate this winter, and it’s interesting to note he could have been a Ray last winter, while Buchholz, Doubront and Lackey are under control beyond 2014. Dempster and Peavy are both on expiring deals, and could hold some trade value. While the Red Sox are in no immediate financial danger, they are closing in on the luxury tax threshold and have several key free agents unsigned. Let’s suppose they sign a free agent such as Hudson, and their pitching surplus pushes them to move a starter or two. It’s possible that the Red Sox could consider Demspter, a free agent after 2014, Peavy and Lackey, who have 2015 options, expendable.
Dempster grew up just a few hours from where I did, so I have a bit of a soft spot, but he could still provide value in Seattle. The Canadian born right-hander is coming off of a down year in which he only contributed 1.3 fWAR and a measly -0.2 bWAR, and is set to earn $13.25 million in 2014 at age 36. Before we look at some numbers, there’s very specific value that Dempster can offer compared to other starters; his PR value. Remember when Justin Morneau was a Twin and the crowds that would flock down from BC to see Minnesota when they came to town for a series? Those same crowds will likely come down to watch Dempster pitch in Safeco a couple times a month, especially in the summer time when the M’s may not be so easy to watch.
Personally, I’ve been a fan of Peavy since his days in San Diego and although he’s a few injuries removed from his 2007 Cy Young win, he can definitely still pitch. He split 2013 wearing both White and Red Sox, and put up 1.5 bWAR and 2.4 fWar. While that’s nothing overly exciting, he logging 219 innings and posted 5.2 bWAR and 4.4 fWAR in a healthy 2012 season. He’s owed $14.5 million in 2014 and has a vesting player option worth $15 million for 2015, and at 33, the Red Sox may want to find out what’s left in Peavy’s tank themselves.
Mariners fans will remember Lackey from his days with the Angels, where he spent his entire career before signing with the Red Sox after the 2009 season. Lackey had a successful 2013 season posting 2.8 bWAR and 3.2 fWAR after missing the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Due to a clause in his contract, missing the season triggered a clause that gives the controlling club an option for 2015 worth $500 thousand, which essentially makes his remaining deal worth $15.75 million over two years, which is a great value for a pitcher expected to be worth 3 WAR in 2014. Something tells me that value will be too good for the Red Sox to seriously consider moving, but anything is possible.
Peavy probably won’t be changing addresses this winter since the Red Sox moved Jose Iglesias in a three-team trade with the Tigers and White Sox this past July to acquire him. It’s unlikely the Mariners would be willing to give up the pieces the Red Sox would want, anyways. Lackey will probably be sticking around, too, since his option makes him very affordable at 35 years of age. That essentially leaves Dempster as the odd man out, who appears to sit as the most likely to be moved.
The one-year commitment to Dempster provides value in that he can be a quality back end of the rotation starter on a team with playoff aspirations, but won’t be tying up a spot beyond next year. He’s probably not a candidate for a qualifying offer after 2014 based on the landscape now, but things could change if he puts together a strong 2014 campaign, and inflation further drives up the price of a win. Dempster struggled in his first year in the American League East and seems to fit the mold of a pitcher who’s best days will be in the National League. In the 12 AL starts he made in 2012 for the Texas Rangers he failed to live up to the success he was having with the Cubs before the trade. The Red Sox may have seen enough of Dempster to determine that his future success will not be with them in their division.
While all three pitchers would provide an upgrade to the Mariners’ rotation, I’d really only be interested in giving Dempster a try in a deal that for the Red Sox would be more about moving his salary than acquiring talent. If the asking price on Dempster approaches an MLB regular or top prospect, the Mariners should say no and seek out a mid-level free agent to cover 150-plus innings at the back end.
The Red Sox pitching surplus probably won’t be touched until we reach January and teams that have missed out on their free agent targets start digging deeper. For now, the Mariners should be exhausting the free agent market to fill out their rotation instead of trading away assets. In the case of acquiring a rotation piece that’ll be around for a while, such as Yovani Gallardo, moving prospects can make sense.
The clock has already begun ticking for Jack Zduriencik. There are literally hundreds of ideas, suggestions and possibilities at his doorstep. Dempster may be one of them.
Jason A. Churchill
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