BOSTON -- With less than 24 hours to go before the non-waiver deadline, the Red Sox appear to be coming up short in their attempts to bolster their starting rotation.
The reasons aren't hard to determine: In a sellers market, those with pitching to offer are demanding a prohibitive return. Further, the Red Sox, after packaging three of their better prospects to land Adrian Gonzalez some 20 months ago, are reluctant to further dip into their inventory of quality, controllable young players.
The Miami Marlins, before effectively telling teams that they had pulled right-hander Josh Johnson from the market, were seeking teams' three top prospects.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox consider such prospect cornerstones as pitcher Matt Barnes, infielder Xander Bogaerts and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. as untouchable.
Thus, any discussions for the few remaining front-line starters are essentially non-starters for the Sox.
Moreover, though Red Sox fans may not want to hear of such thinking, the team believes that they could well be better off hoping for Josh Beckett and Jon Lester to improve rather than overpaying for lesser talents on the market.
The one starter who might be worthy of such a package, Philadelphia's Cliff Lee, is seen as too expensive in another sense: Lee has three more years remaining after this one. With a 12.5 million buyout for 2016, that brings his total salary obligation to approximately 95 million.
The Sox, an industry source indicated, have discussed Lee internally, but the talks never progressed enough to engage the Phillies since, like other big-market teams -- the Phils themselves included -- the Red Sox are intent on staying under the 189 million luxury tax threshold.
Obtaining Lee would give the Red Sox three players with average annual salaries over 20 million, accounting for about one-third of the limit -- with 22 other players still to account for.
Another available pitcher that has been linked in some circles to the Red Sox, Seattle's Jason Vargas, doesn't interest the team much at all.
Vargas, 29, is 11-7 with a 3.76 ERA, but those numbers are helped by pitching in cavernous Safeco Field. Away from the big home ballpark, Vargas has pitched to a 4.67 ERA and allowed 19 homers in just 80 innings.
On the current Red Sox pitching staff, Vargas would be seen as the team's third-best lefty starting option beyond Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales.