With Greinke off market, Sox pitching options become clearer


The Red Sox were never serious players for Zack Greinke, given the kind of contract -- and length -- that the free agent was seeking. But now that Greinke has signed the second-biggest contract ever for a pitcher, the market for the rest of the free-agent starters -- a handful of whom interest the Sox -- could start to crystallize.

According to baseball sources, the Sox are mostly focused on a handful of the remaining starters: Ryan Dempster; Kyle Lohse; Francisco Liriano; Shaun Marcum; and Anibal Sanchez.

Of those, Sanchez is considered something of a longshot because he's likely to seek the longest and most expensive deal in the wake of Greinke's signing. But because he and his agent haven't specified what it is exactly that they're expecting, the Sox have sent the message that they remain interested.

Boston has already made a two-year, 25 million offer to Dempster, which was rejected. Sources close to the 35-year-old said last week at the winter meetings that Dempster would much prefer pitching in the National League and for a team which holds spring training in Arizona.

Those preferences haven't been communicated directly to the Red Sox, who believe that Dempster could survive the demands of the American League East despite having pitched in the N.L. for almost all of his 15-year career.

Dempster has been remarkably durable, having pitched 200 or more innings in four of the last five years. After refusing to waive his 10-5 rights on a trade to the Atlanta Braves last July, Dempster was eventually dealt to the Texas Rangers, for whom he went 7-3 with a 5.09 ERA in 13 starts.

It remains uncertain whether the Sox would be willing to go to a third year if that would guarantee Dempster signing.

Liriano is the one lefty in the group and was described by one executive as having the "highest upside, but also, the least consistent" of the remaining pitchers on the market. Like Demptster, Liriano was dealt at last summer's deadline, moving from the Minnesota Twins to the Chicago White Sox.

Marcum is the only one who has pitched in the A.L. East before, having spent five years with the Blue Jays before being traded to Milwaukee for Brett Lawrie after the 2010 season. Marcum recorded a 3.85 ERA while pitching in the division for Toronto, but a series of ailments have limited him in recent years and he's reached the 200-inning plateau just once in his

Lohse is something of a wild card. At 33, he picked the perfect time to have the best season of his career, winning a career-high 16 games with the St. Louis Cardinals while posting a career-best 2.86 ERA.

That season remains something of an outlier, however. Only one other time in his 12-year career has Lohse won 15 games and only twice before -- 2011 and 2008 -- did he post sub-4.00 ERAs.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Lohse is represented by Scott Boras, who tends to wait longer into the off-season before getting his clients signed.

The chances of landing a starter through trade would seem to be remote, though, according to industry sources, the Sox continue to shop catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The switch-hitting catcher is a year from free agency and could be dealt for pitching help.

The Sox have also signaled a willingness to deal Jacoby Ellsbury for a front-line starter and the high return obtained by the Minnesota Twins for two center fielders -- Denard Span and Ben Revere -- last week reveals a strong market.

However Ellsbury is headed for free agency after 2013, meaning that the teams interested in him would have to be those who first, have a need in center and secondly, believe they can win next season, without regard to re-signing him.

That would translate into Atlanta, Cincinnati and, to a lesser extent -- at least in terms of teams who expect they can contend -- Seattle.

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