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MLB Boston Red Sox

Rebuilding Rotation Next Task Ahead For Boston Red Sox

ben cherington red sox

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

As the dust settles from the madness that was Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline, we sift through the remains of the Boston Red Sox team that won the 2013 World Series. And with what remains of that team, even less remains of the starting rotation.

The Sox entered spring training with an embarrassment of riches in the starting rotation, with six proven major league starters but just five spots. Five months later, five of those six are gone, with Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy traded away and Ryan Dempster walking away from $13 million and forgoing the 2014 season. Only Clay Buchholz remains.

While it all but closes the book on the 2014 season for the Red Sox, ensuring that Fenway Park will close up shop at the end of September for the fourth time in five years, the trading of 80 percent of the rotation filled a need, serving as building blocks to getting back into contention in a shorter amount of time.

The trading of Lester and Lackey included impact bats in Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig, two players who will help cure the offensive anemia that has plagued Boston in 2014. The Lackey deal included pitcher Joe Kelly, who has the potential to become a No. 1A or very good No. 2 pitcher and isn’t arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season.

The Peavy deal helped net two good pitching prospects in Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree while giving the veteran pitcher a shot at another ring with the San Francisco Giants, opening up a spot in the rotation to give young guys like Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster or Matt Barnes. Dealing Doubront to the Chicago Cubs made him someone else’s headache.

While the deal filled needs, it came at the cost of a starting rotation that was among the best in all of baseball and helped bring another championship to Boston.  Therefore, after tearing it down, it is the job of Ben Cherington to rebuild the starting five.

And let’s make one thing clear — that rebuild doesn’t include bringing Lester back to Boston. He’s going to get at least six years and likely $175-180 million on the open market, a place the Red Sox aren’t willing to go, especially if he serves as the ace of a World Series-winning staff in Oakland which could very well happen.

But that doesn’t mean the Red Sox are out of options.

There’s an elite lefty down in Philadelphia who will be on the trade market this offseason. If Ruben Amaro is fired as general manger, which seems to be more likely than not, the new GM will want to rid the Philadelphia Phillies of all the horrendous contracts and replenish the farm system.

Cole Hamels, who will have four years and $90 million remaining on the six-year, $144 million deal he signed in 2012, will be one of the first to be put on the market. He’s the closest thing to Lester as a big lefty who is a shoo-in for 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings. He will have the contract in the neighborhood of what their pay ceiling was with Lester, and they have the assets Philly will be asking for.

On the free agent market, there will be even more options aside from Lester and Detroit Tigers starter Max Scherzer, who will command a long-term deal as well.

The man who Cherington should have his eyes on is Kansas City Royals starter James Shields. A very good No. 2 pitcher, he’s a bulldog who gives you innings, going 30 starts/200 innings every year since 2007. He has experience in the AL East, being the cornerstone of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ staff from 2006-12, winning 87 games and posting a 3.89 ERA over 217 starts and 1,454.2 innings over seven seasons in Tampa. A big righty who will be 33 on opening day in 2015, he will command a three or four-year deal that the Sox are comfortable with handing out.

Other options for the Red Sox on the free agent market include Huroki Kuroda, Ervin Santana, Jason Hammel and Gavin Floyd, all veterans with a good deal of experience with a track record of giving quality innings.

It’s a big mission ahead for Cherington in rebuilding this staff. Lucky for him, there will be a great deal of options to complement a fold that includes many talented, young arms in the organization.

Pat O’Rourke is a Red Sox writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter or join his network on Google.