Red Sox

MLB Notebook: Red Sox could look to fill starting pitching needs via Japan; The changing face of the Winter Meetings

(Harry How/Getty Images)

There can be little debate about what the Red Sox' most pressing need is, both for 2021 and the foreseeable future: starting pitching.

Boston's starting rotation was tied for dead last in average innings per start (4.1) and their collective ERA (5.34) ranked them second to last in the American League.

And while the expected return of Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez will improve things for 2021, their return won't be enough. For one thing, Sale is likely unavailable until close to June 1 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and Rodriguez will be returning after missing the entire 2020 season with COVID-19 and myocarditis. For another, Nathan Eovaldi is the only other established major league starter currently on the roster, leaving, at minimum, the need to add two more proven starting pitchers.

The free-agent class offers Trevor Bauer, but many of the other starters available are nowhere near as accomplished. And, of course, represent costly risks.

It's believed that the Sox won't be major players for Bauer -- both because they're nowhere close to having their problems solved by one pitcher, and the accompanying penalties that would come with signing a free agent with compensation attached. The Red Sox would forfeit their second-round draft pick and a $500,000 in international free agent bonus pool money.

For a team aiming to build back its minor league system, those costs are prohibitive -- to say nothing of the $200 million (or more) cost signing Bauer would represent.

So where, then, do the Red Sox find quality pitching at a more reasonable price?

Perhaps Japan would be a good place to start. Tomoyuki Sugano of the Yomiuri Giants is widely expected to be posted in the coming days and weeks. Sugano, 31, is viewed as the pitcher in Japan, having twice (2017, 2018) won the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award and once being named league MVP.

Sugano is not overpowering, with a fastball that regularly registers in the low 90s. But