Option A? (RLRS Photo).
I do not think I am unleashing anything controversial here when I say a big component of the 2014/2015 off-season for the Red Sox will be acquiring a top notch starting pitcher. If we stick with the free agent market that leaves the Sox with three choices; Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and Big Game James Shields.
I think it is worth some consideration as to who the Sox should be targeting. All three will cost the Sox their second round draft pick but all three pitchers are good enough to be worthy.
Age - Shields – 33 years, 4 months, Lester – 31 years, 3 months, Scherzer – 30 years, 8 months
Edge here to Scherzer by a small amount. When you are getting ready to spend this kind of money you take what you can get.
Or maybe he is Option A? (RLRS Photo).
Workload - Shields – 1910 innings, Lester – 1596 innings, Scherzer – 1239 innings
Once again Scherzer comes out ahead and not by a small amount this time. This can be a bit misleading but in this case Scherzer is a pretty durable pitcher. Like both Lester and Shields he has been a reliable 30+ starts a year for the last half dozen seasons.
Who Is Better? - Shields – 3.70 FIP (2015 Steamer Projection), Lester – 3.55 FIP, Scherzer – 3.41 FIP
FIP is just one measure that I am throwing up there but there is a lot more that goes into this question. Scherzer is the superior pitcher when it comes to K rate while Shields has the best control of the three. Lester made a dramatic leap forward in 2014 and if we accept that as a legitimate improvement rather than a career year performance that bodes well for him.
Contract - Shields – 4/5 years, 70-90 million, Lester – 5/6 years, 140-160 million, Scherzer – 5/6 years, 140-160 million
Obviously I am just guessing here but I think this is a big part of the issue. The numbers may be off but I think I am right in my expectation that the deals for Lester and Scherzer are likely to be materially larger than the deal Shields lands.
Coco’s gone so maybe he’s Option A? (Boston.com photo).
So Who Ya’ Got? - The funny part of this is that I would feel comfortable answering any of the three. Let’s separate the three;
Shields – I think the shorter contract makes “Big Game” James the smaller risk. Assuming you can land him on a four year deal the likelihood of a truly crippling deal is fairly minimal. Unless he flops right out of the gate the Sox are likely to only get one or two bad years out of him. While he is not the sexy pick there is a lot of value in a guy who can reliably get you 30+ starts and 200+ innings of above average pitching.
Scherzer – I think if the Sox want the best of the lot that Scherzer is the guy. Not only does he have the performance track record but looking at each guy in some detail here I really like the lack of wear and tear on Scherzer. Those 600+ fewer innings than Lester seem really meaningful to me.
Lester – You know something? With all of what I have said above Lester is the guy I want. Re-signing Lester would be a fan-driven move. I was never a big Lester fan but I guess absence truly does make the heart grow fonder (the 0.43 World Series ERA don’t hurt either) and it would be fun to see him back.