McAdam: Sox evaluators put to test in search for pitching


BOSTON - Over the weekend, three pitchers were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In some ways, they were as different as can be. One was lefthanded, two were righthanded. One was exceedingly tall, another quite small.

But they had something in common - beyond their fabulous careers that landed them in Cooperstown in the first place.

Each one -- Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz -- was traded early in his career.

Martinez was traded not once, but twice before arriving in Boston in December 1997. Smoltz was traded from Detroit to Atlanta in 1987. And Johnson was shipped from Montral to Seattle.

At the time of their first trades, Smoltz was 20, Johnson was 25 and Martinez was 22 the first time, and 26 the second time.

Why is that relevant?

It's a reminder that even some of the greatest pitchers of all time are somehow not viewed that way by the first (or second) organizations.

And it's a reminder that proper talent evaluation is critical to finding good, young pitching.

The Red Sox find themselves in just such a search this week.

On one hand, the Red Sox are listening to offers on a few veterans who don't have much of a future in Boston, but might have some appeal to contenders.

Shane Victorino was dealt Tuesday. Mike Napoli, Alejando De Aza and Alexi Ogando could each be next.

But at the same time that the Red Sox are thinking of smaller deals that could return a prospect or two, they're also getting a head start on trying to re-load their starting rotation for 2016 and beyond.

The team's opposition to giving out long-term deal- to free agent pitchers in their 30s is well documented, so it's unlikely the team will be in the bidding for the likes of David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann or others this winter.

Instead, the Sox will be looking to make a deal for a pitcher who is controllable - someone in their 20s, with several years to go before reaching free agency, or someone they could extend themselves without committing many years to an aging pitcher.

In short, the Red Sox will be trying to do what they did twice in the last year -- to date, with little success both times.

The Sox dealt for Joe Kelly last July, believing that Kelly, then 26, represented someone with a high ceiling, whom they could control at least through 2018. Kelly, of course, has been a massive disappointment, so bad that the Red Sox earlier this season sent him back to Triple A. In two starts since being re-called, Kelly has allowed nine runs in 8 2/3 innings.

The results with Rick Porcello have been only marginally better, with a 5.51 ERA, his poor pitching made worse by the Red Sox' decision to give him $82 million extension before his first start.

The team has had little luck in drafting and developing its own starters. 

Clay Buchholz -- dominant at times, though perpetually fragile -- was the last pitcher the Sox drafted and developed who experienced some success for them.

That leaves the trade route, and the need to ship out some prospects for someone who has perhaps underachieved elsewhere, but with the proper coaching direction, could blossom here as an ace-in-waiting.

Other teams have done this. Tampa got Chris Archer in a deal for Matt Garza and Archer is now one of the best half-dozen young starters in the game.

Cory Kluber, last year's Cy Young Award winner, was stolen from San Diego by Cleveland. Hextor Santiago was traded at 25. Houston's Colin McHugh is on his fourth organization. Jake Arrieta was sent from Baltimore to the Cubs, where he's emerged as a solid No. 2.

The list goes on. Good, young pitching -- like the truth -- is out there, now and this off-season.

Do the Red Sox have enough creativity and evaluation skills to find it?

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