Haren – Samara Pearlstein

One of the biggest problems — you could even say the problem — with the Red Sox this season was starting pitching. Josh Beckett (see ya!) and Jon Lester just didn’t pitch up to snuff, and Clay Buchholz’s early troubles contributed to digging the Red Sox into a hole. While there’s been optimism on that front given the performance of Franklin Morales, when AaRon Cook is slated to finish the year with over 15 games started for the Red Sox, you know the year didn’t really go as planned.

If the Red Sox are going to have any hope of making the playoffs next season, the starting pitchers must step up their game. The rotation next year tentatively shapes up as Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey. Anything after that is fair game — even Felix Doubront could be trade bait. Fortunately, given the shedding of massive amounts of dollars in the trade we all know about, the Sox can look to supplement their rotation in the free-agent market. They could also look to the trade market at pitchers who will be making big money through the arbitration process. Let’s take a look at what options the Sox will have in front of them to make a deal.

We’ll be looking at 2013 free agents as well as 2014 free agents they could acquire for the 2013 season. There are too many unknowns to delve into pitchers that might be available in trade that aren’t hitting free agency for a while, so we’ll refrain from looking at those type of pitchers until we have a more concrete idea of which of those pitchers would be available. I’ve whittled it down to the top 10 best pitchers/fits for the team. Unless noted, the pitcher is a 2013 free agent.

Zack Greinke

Greinke’s a really good pitcher. That’s evidenced from his Cy Young trophy, accomplished back in 2009. He hasn’t really let up since and is among the game’s best pitchers. At just 28 (29 at the end of October), he’s poised for a major payday. Here’s the problem: Since moving to the Angels at the trade deadline, Greinke hasn’t impressed. It’s probably just an adjustment period and he did just carve up the Tigers, but it’s not going to make any AL GM feel any easier about keeping Greinke in the AL, Cy Young award or not. In addition, are the Red Sox really going to shed quarter of a billion dollars only to turn around and hand Greinke a big deal? I don’t see it. Not to mention that Greinke and his social anxiety issues don’t appear to be a good fit in town. Great pitcher, not a great fit.

Dan Haren ($15.5 million club option)

It’s possible the Angels decline to pick up Haren’s option. He’s had a year to forget, marred by injury and a propensity for giving up home runs. He’s still a quality pitcher, no doubt, but may have slipped just enough that he can’t be considered a frontline pitcher anymore. He is, after all, about to turn 32. His fastball has slipped in velocity three straight years and he currently averages 88.6 miles per hour on his fastball. He’s saving the day and staying relevant with the split-finger, with that and his cutter his bread-and-butter pitch, but his cutter has also tailed off this year. He still likely has a few solid years left as a No. 3 starter, but it’s fair to wonder if the Sox will be scared off by his declining numbers. It would be a stretch to give him more than three years, which would knock Boston out of contention for his services because someone, somewhere, will give him four or five.

Edwin Jackson

If the Red Sox had the funds last season, Jackson or Hiroki Kuroda would have joined the rotation on their one-year deals that instead ended up being the Nationals and Yankees, respectively. Jackson recovered his strikeout numbers that he lost last year and also has showed his improved control over the years is no fluke. He’s always been rather durable and will certainly get a multi-year deal this winter. In a “prove it” season, he has done just that, but he might still not have parlayed himself into a deal that will stretch longer than three years, which would work in Boston’s benefit. He can soak up innings and provide quality pitches. He wouldn’t be a sexy signing, but would slide into the middle of the rotation just fine.

Colby Lewis

Lewis’ season was cut short due to surgery needed to repair a torn flexor tendon, but this is a man Boston should absolutely look hard at for next year. Not only will the 33-year-old come on a reasonable contract, he showed yet again this year prior to injury that he’s the real deal. This is a guy who gets outs thanks to impeccable control and a strikeout rate that keeps batters honest. He can soak up innings and shouldn’t have too much of a problem adjusting to Fenway Park. After all, he makes his home in one of the best hitter’s parks in the league and has gone to the World Series twice in a row. He can handle small parks and pressure. Over the last three years, Lewis has made 80 starts with a 3.93 ERA with a 2.4 BB/9 and 8.1 K/9, strong numbers, and was only getting better as he was posting a career-best 1.2 walks per nine innings this year before going down.

Brandon McCarthy

Most people know McCarthy from his breakout season last year in Oakland, where he posted a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts. He followed that up with a 3.16 ERA this year, showing that McCarthy’s talent is legitimate. There’s a reason he was a former top prospect, but also a reason he’s on his third team — he can’t stay healthy. That’s the case again this year, as he’s only made 16 starts. He will hit free agency as a wild card due to his injury history and that will limit his market. The Red Sox have shown a proclivity toward scooping up good talent despite other warts, hoping that the talent shines through. This guy might be an ideal candidate for a pillow contract with Boston (signing for just a year). With Boston’s newfound depth in starting pitching, they can afford the risk.

Jake Peavy ($22 million club option)

As good as Peavy’s been for the White Sox, it’s hard to imagine Chicago ponying up $22 million for Peavy. Also with a history of being frequently hurt, Peavy is — so far — headed for his first complete season in the rotation since 2007, also the only time he’s won the Cy Young. Peavy has a pristine 3.09 ERA and has shown he can pitch in any stadium, whether that be Petco Park or US Cellular Field. He’ll be one of the more sought-after names on the market should his option be declined, but his market will also be tempered by his injury past. He’s re-invented himself a bit in the last couple of years, moving away from his cutter and bolstering his curveballs and changeups.

Anibal Sanchez

The former Sox farmhand was dealt to the Tigers earlier this season. For Miami, he had become one of their most dependable pitchers after struggling through injuries early in his career. Much like many names to date on this list, he’s a good option for a midrotation role, but one problem: he’s been awful in Detroit. His walks are up, his strikeouts have dipped and he’s giving up many more hits than he should be. That said, as a groundball pitcher, he’s probably being hurt significantly by the statues Detroit has assembled in the infield to masquerade as defenders. He’ll still be one of the more sought-after pitchers on the market, but since there’s quite impressive depth to be had, it will limit his market. Sanchez won’t turn 29 until spring training, so he has age on his side.

James Shields ($9 million club option)

There’s been a bit of chatter that the Rays might decline Shields’ option, which would make him the prize of the free agent class instantly, perhaps even more so than Greinke. Shields came within a measly two outs of throwing a whopping 250 innings last season, and while he won’t match those innings this year, he’s still a very good pitcher who has been a bit unlucky this year due to giving up more home runs than he should be, which may be a luck thing. It’s more likely the Rays pick up his option and then trade him. They have depth in the rotation and will need some bats, especially at catcher, short and the outfield. Who knows if the Rays and Sox will do business with each other, but Boston could match up rather well in a trade.

Matt Garza (2014 free agent)

There just isn’t any way Garza opens the season on another team. He’ll have to prove himself coming off an injury that was only supposed to sideline him a few days but has now knocked him out for much of the second half. The Cubs will want to see him rebuild his value, so get ready to hear Garza’s name everywhere next trade deadline. Depending on the moves the Sox make in the offseason, they could be a player. Garza is proven in the AL East and is the type of power pitcher that Epstein and the Sox organization coveted (like Josh Beckett). Strong pitchers who can pump a fastball are in short supply. File this one under “maybe.”

Josh Johnson (2014 free agent)

What will the Marlins do this offseason? It’s unlikely they go through another spending spree, but they will likely spend some cash and try to gain some traction in their new park. Given the depth of the free agent starting market, the Fish might be willing to part with Johnson, who would be an ace no matter where he pitches, in order to supplement the team with parts. Boston and Miami have talked about Johnson in the past, so there figures to be a base of negotations they can just jump right into, and much like the Rays, both teams match up rather well in terms of what the Marlins would see. Johnson’s injury history is also a concern, but he’ll have reached at least 28 starts in three of the last four years once he makes two more starts. Out of all the names on the list, the Sox would likely select Johnson as the pitcher they’d most like to have.

And again, given their newfound financial flexibility and a desire to upgrade the rotation, they may very well walk away with one of the better pitchers on the market this offseason.