Boston Red Sox Should Target Free Agent SP John Lackey


The Boston Red Sox have a clear need for pitching this off season. A rotation featuring the likes of Rick Porcello and Wade Miley simply is not going to get the job done, and the team knows it. President Dave Dombrowski and his staff are undoubtedly going to attack the top-tier of the pitching market this off season, but they would be wise to look for the best available deal.

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With the aggressive Dombrowski leading the charge, a two-ace off season seems possible. They are undoubtedly going to be interested in pitchers like David Price, Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto, and will have the resources to land a couple of them.

It is certainly possible, but probably not overly realistic, unless they are able to dump some serious salary (I’m talking about you Hanley Ramirez). The Red Sox have other issues on their roster that need attending to as well, so if they are going to add two quality arms to the rotation this off season, they will likely need to find value in one of them.

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While it is incredibly difficult to predict who will receive how much money, when looking at free agent starting pitching, 36-year-old John Lackey stood out as a potential value signing. Could a return to Boston be in the cards for Lackey? Perhaps unlikely, but the Red Sox should certainly do their due diligence here.

The Red Sox signed Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract in the 2010 off season. Lackey was brought in to be one of the horses of the Red Sox’s rotation, but things did not go according to plan.

After spending the first eight years of his career with the Los Angeles Angels, Lackey did not take well to his change of scenery. Through his first two seasons in Boston, Lackey posted an ugly 5.26 ERA in 61 starts. His strikeouts were down, walks were up and he was getting rocked on a regular basis.

Lackey was able to find some success with the Red Sox in 2013, finishing the season with a much-improved 3.52 ERA, and a career-best 4.03 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Lackey was able to turn his career around that season, and he has been successful ever since.

The Red Sox traded Lackey to the St.Louis Cardinals at the 2014 Trade Deadline after the right-hander had a strong start to the season. In exchange, the Red Sox received RHP Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig. While Kelly will battle for a spot in the Red Sox’s rotation again next season, neither player has shown much in their time in Boston. In fact, Craig has been awful, and saw only 79 big league at-bats in 2015.

The Cardinals clearly won that trade, as Lackey has been great since joining the organization. In particular this season, where Lackey has been lights our for St. Louis, posting a 2.77 ERA in 33 starts, while also striking out 7.2 batters per nine innings and walking only 2.2 per nine. Lackey was a star for the Cardinals this season, and was their ace of the staff in their short post-season run.

Speaking of the post-season, Lackey seemed to find some magic in the Cardinals’ NLDS Game 1 against the Chicago Cubs. Lackey dominated a talented Cubs’ line-up in Game 1, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He finished with 7.1 shutout innings, only giving up two hits on the evening. The Cubs’ offense seemingly had no chance against Lackey, and that is not something you can say often about that team.

Upon closer look, Lackey seemed to make adjustments to his arm angle for the post-season. He clearly started pitching from a more side-arm angle in Game 1 against the Cubs, and it was incredibly effective. Not only did Lackey gain more deception in his side-arm delivery, his velocity spiked and the movement of his pitches appeared to increase as well. All of this while still showing incredible command.

Oct 9, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher John Lackey reacts after retiring the Chicago Cubs in the fourth inning in game one of the NLDS at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

He continued to use his new arm angle in Game 4 against Chicago, and while the Cubs were able to get to him for four runs in three innings, his stuff continued to look great. In my eyes, that was a talented offense doing damage, and there wasn’t much the pitcher could do. Lackey still made plenty of great pitches throughout that start, it just did not work out against such a dynamic line-up.

This arm angle may end up not being much, but Lackey really seemed to gain some more effectiveness from it, and I think it is something to look at going forward. It helps make him an incredibly intriguing target this off season, and at his advanced age, some teams may be shying away from him.

Lackey is a steady veteran pitcher who you pretty much know what you are getting out of. He is going to be strong and consistent throughout the season, and he brings ample big-game and playoff experience. Also, this new arm angle may be something that gives him even more upside as we move forward.

Regardless, the Red Sox need to be looking into acquiring Lackey. He would immediately become the ace of the staff, and should be obtainable at a price that would allow the Red Sox to continue to attack the top-tier of the free agent SP market. Finding two aces is certainly possible for the Red Sox this off season, and Lackey should be one of them.

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