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Ben Cherington begins road to rotation rebuild: Sox to be ‘involved in starting pitching this winter’

07.31.14 at 11:23 pm ET
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Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington knows he completed just half the job on Thursday by trading away Jon Lester and John Lackey, completing a wild week that saw him deal away four-fifths of his opening day rotation.

“That is not something we would have expected to do at the start of the season, trade away four-fifths of the rotation,” Cherington said. “And obviously, each trade done for different reasons and different circumstances. Ultimately, at least the ones — I talked about the Peavy trade before, and that was done at a little bit different time for us.

“The two trades we made today, in Lackey and Lester, were difficult to do, but we feel fit into our desire to be as good as we can as quickly as we can. With that said, we recognize we will have to, we will need to do some work with our starting rotation. We hope and expect many of the answers for that can come from the guys who are here. But I’d expect us to be involved in starting pitching this winter.”

Dealing Lester and Lackey for position players who project to be everyday players for the team in 2015 is only the beginning. Now, Cherington has to go about rebuilding a rotation that lost 40 wins from a 97-win World Series championship team a year ago.

Part of that answer could come from the minor league system, which is stocked with names like Henry Owens, Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo, who makes his major league debut Friday night in the series opener against the Yankees at Fenway Park.

“Obviously some of those young pitchers are going to get a lot of opportunity the rest of the way, the guys that are already here,” Cherington said. “Ranaudo is going to start [Friday] night. We have an opportunity to watch that and they have an opportunity to pitch and develop. We’ll know a lot more about that group by the end of the season and that will help inform us, to some degree, going into the offseason. It would be my expectation that we would be active no matter what happens the rest of the way.

“My expectation is that we would be active in the starting pitching market this winter with trades, free agency, whatever. But we’re going to learn a lot more about our young group. We liked our young group of starters two weeks ago and now we’ve added a couple more to that in [Eduardo] Escobar and [Eduardo] Rodriguez — two young starters we got. We feel very good about the depth of young starters that we have in the organization. Obviously they’re not proven major league pitchers and so we’ve got to learn more about them the rest of the way and see what’s available to us this winter.”

For now, the Red Sox are going to feature a rotation led by Clay Buchholz, followed up by Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Ranaudo and the just-acquired right-hander Joe Kelly, with Allen Webster likely to get at least another look by the end of the season. For 2015, Owens and others certainly figure to enter camp with a chance to push for an audition sometime during the season.

Cherington made one thing clear: If the Red Sox weren’t going to extend Lester and Lackey, there was no point to hanging on to them for the remaining 54 games on a team that was 12 games under .500. Cherington also made a point that, with talent waiting in the wings already in the system, there was no reason to trade for more prospects. The Red Sox wanted big league-ready talent in return.

“Certainly a strong consideration,” Cherington said. “It didn’t make any sense for us to trade both Lester and Lackey unless we were getting at least one major league starting pitcher back — if not major league players total back — in return. In light of what I said, it didn’t end up making sense for us to do either or both for a prospect package. It just would have made the next several months of the season more difficult to build to what we want to be.

“If we were going to do it, we really prioritized getting major league players, but then in particular at least one starting pitcher back, and in Kelly we feel like we have a guy who is on the come and is a developing, advancing major league starting pitcher. Certainly not a finished product, but really talented — someone our scouts have liked for a long time. Highly athletic, really good stuff and we feel someone who can quickly develop into a core part of our rotation. So he was an important addition as we go into the offseason. We wouldn’t have done the Lackey deal without getting someone like that back.”

So he represents one likely member of the 2014 rotation. But there are plenty of spots to be claimed.

Read More: anthony ranaudo, Boston Red Sox, henry owens, john lackey
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