BOSTON (CBS) -- Jon Lester won't be walking through the doors at Fenway Park, so now the Red Sox have to shift to "Plan B" this offseason.
Some might argue "Plan A" never really included Lester, and once that lowball offer was made in Spring Training, Lester was all but a goner.
But the bottom line is Boston has two vacancies to fill at the front of their rotation. One of the top arms on the market is off the boards, and now, things could really cost the franchise going forward.
It's unlikely Boston will enter the Max Scherzer race, with many teams ready to back trucks full of money onto the righty's front yard. There are still some serviceable free agent starters left out there, like James Shields and Ervin Santana, but neither of them fit the mold of a true ace.
If it's an ace the Sox want (and it's an ace the Sox need), Ben Cherington is going to have to secure one via trade. And that will cost them a small fortune in terms of their prospects.
It's long been rumored that Cole Hamels, the Phillies lefty who owns 108 career wins, was "Plan B" if Boston couldn't get Lester back, so expect those rumors to start heating up again. Hamels is on the block because Philadelphia is a mess right now, and they don't see the benefit of holding on to a soon-to-be 31-year-old starter who is owed $94 million over the next four years (with a $20 million option for a fifth year).
Hamels was just 9-9 last season but had a career-best 2.46 ERA and tossed over 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He owns a 3.27 career ERA and a World Series MVP, and Hamels could likely handle the pressure of pitching in Boston and slide into the front of the Red Sox rotation with relative ease.
However, the cost will be much more than any free agent. For starters, Hamels has a no-trade clause, and Boston happens to be on of 20 teams on the list. To acquire him, the Red Sox will have to pick up that $20 million option. No biggie, right? What's another $20 million for the Red Sox?
Where the price tag skyrockets is actually having to give up talent in exchange for Hamels -- which Boston wouldn't have had to do with Lester. The Phillies are focused on their rebuild, and will likely command a handful of top prospects in return. It's unclear what exactly the Phillies will want, but is it worth possibly having to part with young players like Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Henry Owens and Anthony Raunado?
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal says the Phillies and Red Sox aren't currently close on a deal, and Boston has started to explore other options as well. One of their targets includes Arizona lefty Wade Miley, who was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. It was a bit of a down year for the 28-year-old in 2014, with Miley a career 38-35 with a 3.79 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in four years.
Miley is in the first of three seasons of arbitration eligibility, which should be enticing to a number of teams around the league. Again, the Red Sox have plenty of prospects to offer up, but in the end will it be worth it?
Rosenthal's tweet also said the Red Sox are looking at five other pitchers via trade (possibly more), making it likely they've made a call to the Cincinnati Reds about Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos (with Yoenis Cespedes the likely trade bait). Padres starter Ian Kennedy is also up for grabs for the right price, as are Washington's Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmerman.
There's even a chance David Price will be made available by the Detroit Tigers, as the 2012 Cy Young winner will be a free agent following the season. But he too will carry a steep price tag to acquire, and will likely command an even bigger contract than Lester when he hits the market.
In need of two starters, chances are the Red Sox were going to cash in on some of those prospects anyways this winter. But now, whoever the Red Sox look to take over the top spot in their rotation (aside from the disappointing Shields or pricey Scherzer), is going to cost them a small fortune, with their top prospects the currency.
While we tend to fall in love with young players, and chances are some of them will never pan out to the lofty expectations placed upon them, it's disappointing to see the Red Sox have to surrender such chips when they really didn't have to. Jon Lester was once one of those chips, nearly traded for Johan Santana back in 2007. Sometimes, it's the trades you don't make that work out the best.
Now for Boston, after letting Jon Lester head to Chicago, they may be forced to make such a trade.
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