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Sox Offseason, Part the Third: Three Pitchers


L - R: Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden

This is not news by now: the Red Sox are likely to need a catcher for the 2009 season and beyond. There are options: Varitek could return, they could import a veteran like Bengie Molina or Pudge Rodriguez, Josh Bard could make his triumphant return, they could trade for a youngster from another team who's available, or simply call up George Kottaras from Pawtucket. We'll know more after the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to free agents on Monday, but those are the possibilities. All of these choices carry various pros and cons, of course, which we could analyze at length if we so chose. But we're just focusing on trade possibilities for the sake of this discussion. And since we've already spent some time talking about the relative merits of the catching surplus of a certain team once owned by a certain slow-witted President, which includes a certain offensive-minded youngster with a long, Italian name, we're going to look at this more form the Red Sox' perspective. Specifically, I'd like to look at the cost.

Almost any young, talented catcher the Red Sox would want to trade for is not going to come cheap. If most fans are somewhat aware of what the Red Sox catching situation is, then it's probably safe to say that most General Managers around MLB are also somewhat aware. A catcher is going to cost the team one of their top three young pitchers - Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz, or Michael Bowden. The market ultimately will probably dictate which of the three youngsters the Red Sox will ultimately trade -- assuming they go that direction -- but it's probably still worth looking at which one they ought to trade. Probably. Let's look at the three individually.

Masterson: He's an effective groundballer who's pitched well both in the rotation and out of the bullpen. By the end of last year, he was looking like second chair in the pen behind Papelbon. But others still envision him as another Derek Lowe-style groundball machine who's best out of the rotation. The Red Sox' two most significant moves so far this winter have brought them two right-handed relievers (Ramon Ramirez and Wes Littleton), which would suggest they subscribe to the latter view. Some scouts, though, insist he's better used in relief, since he has a high-stress delivery and has a pretty pronounced split - lefties hit him pretty well last year (in limited action, of course). If a potential trade partner shares the view that he's a starter, then a young catcher might be a solid match even-up, but if they believe him to be a reliever, they might ask for a pot sweetener from Boston. Something tells me he'd fit in well in Texas.

Bowden: Bowden's ceiling isn't as high as Buchholz's or even Masterson's; he projects more as a #3 starter. Names like Bronson Arroyo and Jeff Suppan come up as points of comparison when discussing Bowden. Those guys have had nice careers, of course, so that's not a knock. It's more about managing expectations. The reason Bowden is so valuable is because he's closer to reaching that ceiling than the average 22-year-old, and any pitcher who can perform that well for you at that age for that price is extremely valuable. That said, if the Red Sox dealt him they might not miss him as much as they might miss other pitchers with more raw ability, like Clay Buchholz. Speaking of...

Buchholz: Buchholz represents an interesting case at this point in his career. You'd hate to trade him now when his value is at an absolute low, particularly when he has flashed such brilliance in the past. For the believers - and I will disclose that I count myself among them - there were some positive signs in Buch's dreadful '08 campaign. His K/9 stayed high. He had some bad luck on balls in play. And he experienced a possibly flukish spike in home runs allowed. If he can cut down on walks and do a slightly better job of keeping the ball in the park, he can be back on track for greatness once again. 

But that's no guarantee. There have been questions and rumors surrounding Buchholz regarding his work ethic, character, and "extracurricular activities" since the Red Sox drafted him. All I can really say is that it's on him at this point. I'd favor giving him the chance to prove it at this point and hope he justifies that faith, but obviously there are people out there who would know more about it than I would, and they're the ones deciding this stuff. 

* * * 

The Red Sox today announced the signing of Junichi Tazawa to a Major-League deal, even though he'll probably need to start at least at Double-A Portland. I don't know too much about Tazawa, but a lot of scouts seem to be non-believers and feel he won't be worth the contract the Sox are signing him to. When you combine that skepticism with the possibility of this setting a precedent that destroys MLB's relationship with Japanese baseball, then it's hard not for me to wonder if this was such a great idea. We'll see, I guess.

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