Seven Starting Pitchers Red Sox Could Target In MLB Free Agency

A lot contributed to the Boston Red Sox’s last-place finish in 2023.

Their defense was bad. The offense sputtered at inopportune moments. Injuries piled up to an insurmountable extent.

It often felt like the Red Sox were trying to jam square pegs into round holes, and their overall lack of depth was no more apparent than in the starting rotation, where Boston struggled to achieve any sort of consistency.

Red Sox starters finished 27th in innings pitched (774 1/3), 22nd in ERA (4.68) and 20th in FIP (4.51). Boston manager Alex Cora constantly tried to put together a puzzle that was missing pieces right out of the box.

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It stands to reason, then, that Craig Breslow’s top priority as Boston’s new chief baseball officer will be to bolster the club’s rotation this Major League Baseball offseason, an effort that could require acquiring multiple hurlers.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, there are several impactful arms available in free agency this winter. Let’s look at seven notable starting pitchers Boston theoretically could target on the open market.

(We’ll omit two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani — the top free agent available this offseason — from the conversation, as he’s unlikely to pitch in 2024 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.)

Yoshinobu Yamamoto, RHP
Ohtani is the offseason’s most fascinating free agent, for obvious reasons. (He’s the best baseball player on the planet.) But Yamamoto is a close second, because he’s an unknown commodity — having played his entire professional career in Japan — who’s widely considered the best pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball. That he’s just 25 years old — an early age to hit free agency — only adds to his appeal. Yamamoto, listed at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, could land the most lucrative contract of any free agent starter, with The Athletic’s Tim Britton projecting $203 million over seven years and MLB Trade Rumors predicting $225 million over nine years. He also might blossom into an ace, if all goes well in his transition to the United States.

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Aaron Nola, RHP
Looking for more of a sure thing? Nola’s your guy. Granted, he dealt with a few hiccups the last few seasons, with a fourth-place Cy Young Award finish in 2022 tucked between a 4.63 ERA in 2021 and a 4.46 ERA in 2023. But he’s durable, totaling at least 180 innings in each of the last five full MLB seasons, with front-end upside. The 30-year-old isn’t necessarily overpowering, instead leaning on elite command and a plus curveball. It’s a reliable profile that should age well given his feel for pitching.

Blake Snell, LHP
Snell, in many ways, is the antithesis of Nola: He’s a hard-throwing lefty with shaky command and questions concerning his workload. But the ceiling is undeniable. Snell just locked down his second ERA title, despite an unflattering 13.3% walk rate, and is primed to secure his second Cy Young Award, a résumé that’ll undoubtedly land him a nine-figure contract. Do the Red Sox want to ride the Snell rollercoaster? It’s a bumpy ride that’s mostly fun — again, the results are the results — but just know you might lose your lunch somewhere along the way. The soon-to-be-31-year-old has topped 130 innings just twice in his eight-year MLB career — in 2018 (180 2/3 innings) and in 2023 (180 innings).

Jordan Montgomery, LHP
Is Montgomery a No. 1 starter? Probably not. But his stock soared in 2023 thanks to a strong regular season (3.20 ERA across 32 starts) and a solid showing in the playoffs for the eventual World Series champion Texas Rangers. He’s now positioned to cash in on that success, and it’ll be interesting to see what payday he lands relative to Snell, a fellow southpaw entering his age-31 campaign. Montgomery doesn’t quite pop like Snell, but he’s a good mid-rotation type whose full arsenal makes for a high floor.

Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
Another left-hander entering his age-31 schedule. And what a weird 2023 season (and career) for Rodriguez, a good, not great, pitcher who always seems capable of more based on his talent. Nevertheless, he’s again a free agent after opting out of the final three years and $49 million remaining on his contract with the Detroit Tigers. Will the Red Sox consider a reunion? It’s not a terrible idea, seeing as he knows the organization, pitched very well at times for Boston from 2015 to 2021 and perhaps could be obtained at a less-substantial price point than the aforementioned free agents.

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Sonny Gray, RHP
Gray is the elder statesman of the bunch, having just turned 34 this offseason. He’s also small in stature, listed at 5-foot-10 (thinking face emoji) and 195 pounds, and went through a stretch of mediocrity with the New York Yankees a few years ago after an excellent start to his career with the Oakland Athletics. The arrow is pointing up after 2023, though, with Gray earning an All-Star nod en route to finishing with a 2.79 ERA and an American League-best 2.83 FIP in his second season with the Minnesota Twins. He’s in the second tier of available starters, with his earning potential more so capped by his age than his recent performance, which passes the smell test.

Shōta Imanaga, LHP
Imanaga is another pitcher making the jump from Japan to MLB. He’s older than Yamamoto, entering his age-30 season, and is viewed more as a mid- to back-end starter, which presumably will be reflected in his acquisition cost. But he’s been one of the best pitchers in NPB for several years, with an arsenal that includes a low-90s fastball, a curveball, a slider and a changeup, according to The Athletic’s Jim Bowden. The five-year, $75 million contract Kodai Senga signed with the New York Mets last offseason probably will be used as a baseline in negotiations.

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