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Paul: Tigers, Red Sox look like perfect trade partners

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The Red Sox have shored up their offense, in a big way.

Now they must turn their attention to the rotation. And the Tigers could prove a big help there.

Boston on Monday was closing in on two massive deals for two sluggers — Pablo Sandoval (five years, $100 million) and Hanley Ramirez (four years, $88 million, with an option). All that's holding up the announcements are physicals. A press conference should happen soon.

Those two pieces make their lineup among the most impressive in all of baseball.

But the Red Sox starting staff leaves plenty to be desired. It's got Clay Buchholz and, really, not much else.

Some are speculating the Red Sox might now focus on signing one of the Big Three free-agent pitchers, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields. Lester would appear the heavy favorite.

Boston brass, led by general manager Ben Cherington, doesn't like to go beyond five years for a pitcher, smart thinking given how pitchers break down in their mid- and late-30s. But there is a fair amount of bit of buzz they're willing to make an exception on Lester, and bring back their ace that they shipped to the A's at last year's trade deadline.

But even if they do, Lester and Buchholz isn't enough to make the Red Sox the cream of the crop in the American League East.

Given Boston's depth everywhere else, a big trade or two seems very realistic.

There are a bevy of targets being floated out there, starting with Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who would have to waive his no-trade clause, and probably would on the condition the Red Sox pick up the fifth-year option. That wouldn't seem likely much of a roadblock, since that would take the deal to $110 million, less than Lester will get.

Here's a strange question: Would Hamels even be enough?

Buchholz, remember, wasn't very good at all in 2014, Lester might be gone, John Lackey is gone, Jake Peavy is gone. Of the returning starters, excluding a potential Lester reunion, none that made more than one start had an ERA below 4.11 last season.

That's why the Red Sox and Tigers might be having some discussions. The Tigers have two pitchers who are entering the final year of their contracts, David Price and Rick Porcello.

It's a big question whether Price wants to return to Detroit beyond 2015, and it's a big question whether Detroit wants Porcello beyond 2015 if he's going to cost anywhere in the $100 million range.

The Red Sox could be interested in either one, or maybe even both, given their deficiencies in the rotation. The odds-on favorite for Boston, if it signs Lester and trades for Hamels, would be Porcello. If Lester goes back, Price would give the Red Sox three aces, and potentially four if Buchholz finds himself, and that might not be all that realistic.

That said, Boston has several players on its roster that Detroit — in need of offense, depth and bullpen help — might covet, and that the Red Sox, now with Sandoval and Ramirez in the fold, might view as expendable.

Yoenis Cespedes, a Tigers target before he signed with the A's three years ago, would probably be front-and-center in any discussions, with fellow outfielders Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Allen Craig potentially up for grabs, too. The Tigers might also like the idea of adding a young, controllable infielder like Will Middlebrooks or Xander Bogaerts, or a reliever such as Junichi Tazawa.

Expect Cherington and Dave Dombrowski to be in regular contact here, as they've been many times before. They hooked up on a deal for Jose Iglesias two summers ago, and were well down the road in Andrew Miller talks last July.

Of course, the only way the Tigers would be interested in any such discussions is if they have other plans for the rotation. Specifically, if they don't sign Max Scherzer or maybe Shields, it's tough to see them parting with Price or Porcello.

But Scherzer's market doesn't appear to be anywhere close to what he and agent Scott Boras anticipated when they turned down Dombrowski's six-year, $144-million offer last spring, and it could really take a tumble if Lester, considered by some superior to Scherzer, actually signs for somewhere around six years and $130 million, which appears possible.

If Lester returns to the Red Sox, the Cubs figure to go hard after Scherzer. The Nationals, though, might be the best fit for Scherzer, are willing to spend and have a good history with Boras — but even they'd likely to have clear payroll space, and trade a pitcher like Doug Fister or Jordan Zimmermann. That scenario could open the Tigers to more talks with the Nats, though it'd be especially embarrassing if they give up far more for Fister than they got when they dealt him to Washington in the first place last winter. It's doubtful the Nats would trade Fister for oh, say, Robbie Ray and Ian Krol.

Still, the Nationals are worth keeping an eye on — but probably not as much as the Red Sox.

Boston and Detroit are shaping up a perfect match for trade talks.

Stay tuned. This could get very interesting.