What will the Red Sox rotation look like if Lester is dealt?

At this point it appears to be all but a certainty that Jon Lester will be dealt by Thursday's trade deadline. We don't know where he's going, but with Lester being pulled from tomorrow's start, we know that talks have reached a point where the Sox don't want to risk an injury by starting him again.

While we can discuss the merits of this decision all night (personally I think it's a poor one) -- let's take some time to look into the post-Lester world and look at the potential starting rotation for the Sox going forward.

For this season, if you are on the william hill website, it seems like a safe bet that Brandon Workman will join the rotation for the rest of the season, and that either Allen Webster or Anthony Ranaudo will claim the fifth spot, leaving the Sox with the following group for the rest of 2014.

John Lackey
Clay Buchholz
Rubby de la Rosa
Brandon Workman
Allen Webster/Anthony Ranaudo

While it was Webster that got the call on Sunday in Tampa, that had a lot to do with the fact that he hadn't pitched in awhile, while Ranaudo and Workman were both unavailable.

If we're going strictly by 2014 performance at Pawtucket, it might be Ranaudo who deserves the fifth spot over Webster. Webster has been solid for the PawSox, going 4-4 with a 3.10 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 21 games (20 starts), but Ranaudo has been better, going 12-4 with a 2.41 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 21 starts in Pawtucket.

No matter who gets the call, it's clear that the Sox would be going very young for the rest of 2014, with two rookies in their rotation plus a third guy (Workman) who barely lost his rookie status last year.

But what about in 2015?

Taking a look at the list of free agents, there are a few superstar starters hitting the market in Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields. But if the Sox are wary of giving up huge money over five years or more, it's unlikely they'll change their mind by the time winter rolls around. That could mean that the Sox turn towards the second tier starters in an effort to boost their odds of contending in 2015. Unfortunately, that second tier really doesn't exist.

There are a few decent names, among them: Justin Masterson, Josh Beckett, Gavin Floyd, and Jason Hammell, but none of these guys can come close to replacing Lester.

The Sox could turn to the trade market as well, as they're already rumored to be interested in the Phillies Cole Hamels. But giving up a ton of prospects to pay Hamels $90 million over four seasons just doesn't seem like the best use of resources when you could just pay Lester to stay.

Bottom-line: While the Sox could get creative with a trade or two, or shock everyone and pony up for Lester/Scherzer/Shields, it's hard to believe they'll be able to replace Lester's production by 2015. They have tons of young arms and plenty of money to spend, but none of those arms will be a top-of-the rotation talent within a year, and the free agent market is weak this year for pitching.

So while passing on Lester may be a smart move for 2018 and 2019, it's going to hurt them in 2015.