BOSTON — Veteran starters Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, and Ryan Dempster all were on the Red Sox roster at the end of their 2013 World Series championship season.
By today’s 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline, Buchholz potentially could be the only one of those six hurlers still with Boston, and leading a staff that includes four youngsters with limited major league experience.
Dempster chose not to pitch this year, Peavy was traded to San Francisco last week and Doubront was shipped to the Chicago Cubs yesterday for a player to be named later. Meanwhile, Lester and Lackey very likely could be traded by today’s deadline.
If Lester and Lackey are moved to a contending team today, has then GM Ben Cherington dismantled his roster so drastically that the Red Sox would be at risk of falling out of playoff contention until at least 2016?
Red Sox manager John Farrell cautioned against that notion before yesterday’s game.
“I think we have every intention to compete and contend next year,” Farrell said before last night’s 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays.
“I would hope that the team that is built for 2015 isn’t just based on those who are brought back in trades by (today’s deadline).”
So what is Cherington’s plan exactly?
Like the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, Cherington seems to be in “Let’s accumulate assets” mode.
The Celtics have been stockpiling draft picks that they hope to eventually swap for an All-Star such as Minnesota’s Kevin Love.
The Red Sox, likewise, are in the business of accumulating as many prospects as possible. Prospects that they could then possibly flip in the offseason for Lester’s replacement, such as Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels, and a needed power hitter such as Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton or Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez.
Farrell has met with several Red Sox players to discuss Cherington’s vision.
He said the message was: “To outline as best we can moves that might be made with the intent that we (will be) the best team as we can be as quick as possible.
“What we have to do is take a step back from all of this and know there’s decisions that are part of the business side of the game and have faith in the fact that Ben has got a clear-cut plan to get us back to a team that will contend.”
The Red Sox are looking to add to their farm system, which is already one of the top three systems in baseball. Boston is loaded with elite pitching prospects, headlined by 22-year-old left-hander Henry Owens, who is 14-4 with a 2.60 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A Portland this year.
Increasing the minor league talent today would allow Boston to trade some of it for proven major leaguers in the offseason while maintaining elite depth in the farm system.
Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is doing something similar with the Chicago Cubs right now.
Epstein has built Chicago’s farm system into a top-five system in the majors. Chicago’s system is loaded with talented positional players but fewer pitching prospects.
So why did Epstein acquire a top shortstop prospect earlier this month from Oakland instead of pitching for starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel
Epstein simply went after the best prospect possible and now could trade All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro for pitching prospects.
The Red Sox are rich in young pitching depth.
Boston has three talented pitchers (24-year-old Allen Webster, 25-year-old Brandon Workman and 25-year-old Rubby De La Rosa) in its current rotation. Webster and De La Rosa have the potential to be top-of-the-rotation starters, and Workman has a lot of talent, too.
Two former first-round picks, 24-year-olds Anthony Ranaudo (12-4, 2.41 ERA) and Matt Barnes, are in Triple-A Pawtucket’s rotation.
Owens and 23-year-old lefty Brian Johnson (2.05 ERA in 15 starts), who headline Portland’s rotation, are former first-round picks. And don’t forget about Trey Ball, the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft. He’s pitching for Single-A Greenville.
If the Red Sox add more pitching prospects in potential Lester and Lackey deals today, don’t scratch your head.
It’s all about the assets.
Just ask Ainge, Epstein .... and your man Cherington who took the Sox from worst to first in 2013 after most thought he had at least a two-year rebuilding project in front of him.
“We find ourselves in a unique situation: the trading deadline with a pending free agent, extremely talented guy,” Farrell said. “That’s where our faith ... in Ben and the plan that’s in place is steadfast.”
Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB