Sox have decisions to make with Dempster out

Sox have decisions to make with Dempster out
February 16, 2014, 10:00 pm
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FORT MYERS, Fla. --  Suddenly, the surplus of starting pitchers for the Red Sox isn't a surplus at all.
Before Sunday, the Sox had six established starters: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster.
But the news Sunday that Dempster will not pitch in 2014 -- and may eventually retire -- leaves the Sox with five veterans, plus a handful of largely untested younger pitching prospects.
"We talked in the off-season about six guys for five spots," said manager John Farrell. "These will be the five we'll look to open the season with. But we've got to prepare for the unknown, or the unforeseen. That can be injury, that can be things take away from what our initial plan is. That's why you look at that second five (in the minors) as being critical.
"Other guys we're going to look to get multiple innings and stretch out (during spring training) would be Brandon Workman, for one. We've got Allen Webster, Rubby de la Rosa, Drake Britton. And then the other three young guys -- Henry Owens, (Anthony) Ranaudo and (Matt) Barnes. We've got a very good young group of, we feel, strong prospects. But still, while they're long on talent, they're short on experience.
"That's our job, in any way possible, to shorten that transition time. But we feel confident with the talent that's here."
A year ago, the Red Sox had three starters provide them with 29 or more starts -- Lester, Lackey and Dempster -- and another (Doubront) gave them 27.
The chances that the Sox are again fortunate enough -- and healthy enough -- to get 27 or more starts from four of their starters in 2014 would seem remote.
A year ago, the Sox needed 18 starts from five other pitchers -- Workman, Webster, Stephen Wright, Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales. They'll likely need at least those many again beyond the top five starters.
General manager Ben Cherington declined to say whether the team would now pursue some veteran free agents to provide more depth for the Red Sox.
"There'll be a chance to talk about the team and answer questions about that," Cherington said. "But I think in fairness to Ryan, I'd really rather, today, just focus on Ryan. I'm not trying to avoid questions. I know there are questions. We'll get to those questions.''
But according to an industry source, the Red Sox, having had internal knowledge of Dempster's decision for the past two weeks, have already been ramping up efforts to find some veteran free agents still looking for work.
Such a pitcher would probably have to sign a minor league deal and begin the year at Triple A Pawtucket, with the promise that any injuries or performance issues at the major league level would result in an opportunity.
The same source indicated that the Sox weren't close to signing anyone in that category.
Another option would be to bank Dempster's salary savings -- $13.25 million -- and save it for a mid-season acquisition.
Say, for instance, that the Philadelphia Phillies fall out of contention and make lefty Cliff Lee available. The banked money could come in handy in allowing the Sox to take on Lee's remaining salary, or that of another expensive veteran who could help the Sox over the second half.