That the Red Sox will pick up Clay Buchholz’s $13 million option for 2016 this week — the option must be picked up five days after the World Series — seems like a formality. But that won’t be the end of the discussion concerning the 31-year-old righthander.
Buchholz’s name is already rolling off the lips of some mid- to small-market teams who believe they could trade for him if the Red Sox have bigger fish to fry in pursuit of a true ace who can stay healthy.
The $13 million and the fact that Buchholz can provide an ace-like stretch when healthy are certainly part of the thought process. That Buchholz has never made 30 starts or pitched 200 innings appears to be more frustrating to the Red Sox than to other teams who feel that maybe, at some point, that tide could turn and Buchholz will be in the clear from injuries.
From the standpoint of where he’s been the past few years, it’s hard to project that. We joked a few weeks back that maybe Joe Kelly and Buchholz can job-share, given the way they tend to break down.
But to play devil’s advocate with myself, if Boston pursues an ace and lands Jordan Zimmermann or Johnny Cueto, Buchholz’s lack of stamina might not be the big issue that it has been the past couple of years.
If the Red Sox have an ace who can throw 220 innings and make 32-34 starts, then Buchholz’s 15-20 starts — as long as they’re effective — could be worth every penny of the $13 million.
But that’s where my argument to keep him ends.
“Everyone is aware of his history, and the potential that he won’t make 80 percent of his starts,” said an American League general manager, “but for the price, a lot of teams will make inquiries to Boston about him.
“Everyone knows the frustration level he brings, but we all know how good he can be also. He’s reaching that age where he’s learned how to pitch. Sometimes a player or pitcher gets a lot of injuries in the first half of their careers because they haven’t figured out what they need to do to stay healthy. There’s always the hope that Buchholz figures that all out.
“If he can, he’s as good as anyone out there.”
As things stand, the Red Sox have Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Kelly, Buchholz, Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, and Brian Johnson all available as starting pitchers.
They do have some major wiggle room if they can acquire an ace. Then it’s a matter of weeding someone out to fill a need. So the Red Sox will be a popular team to deal with.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already fielded trade calls. At next week’s GM meetings, he’s sure to get more inquiries.
Teams have already made inquiries through back channels about Buchholz, Miley, and Kelly.
We know that Boston’s depth will be useful in trying to acquire a top-flight reliever. Kansas City for instance, may lose outfielder Alex Gordon, and it has been interested in Jackie Bradley Jr. for two years. Would Boston deal Bradley for a reliever such as Luke Hochevar or Kelvin Herrera? Would San Diego be interested in Buchholz in a package for closer Craig Kimbrel?
You might even get teams to overpay for Buchholz. The Red Sox appear to have a major chip here. If they elect to keep him, it would give them the liberty to deal Miley, Kelly or Owens.
The one untouchable appears to Rodriguez, but the Red Sox would surely listen on Porcello, although the contract will be a major detriment.
I’ve certainly been outspoken about Buchholz throughout his career. I have described him as having the best stuff of any Red Sox starter, but have countered that his health issues and his unpredictability are not worth the contract.
I suggested that the Red Sox not pick up the option and use the $13 million toward an ace, but they might as well pick up the option and then start listening to offers.
It doesn’t mean you deal him if you don’t get your price, but there will be multiple choices before the offseason is over. Buchholz has passed all of the exit physicals, so his health isn’t a factor — for now.
In just about every season of his career, he has had a health issue. That gets old after a while. He’s averaged just over 20 starts the past three seasons. Even in this day and age of pitchers breaking down because they throw too hard, Buchholz is a real pitcher. Because he’s not max effort on every pitch, you would think he’d be less apt to break down, but that hasn’t been the case.
Dombrowski is new to Buchholz, so perhaps he doesn’t feel the frustration that others do. But all he has to do is look at the body of work, which has been very good when healthy and very erratic when he’s been nicked up.
Can you live with that forever? Or at some point do you just say, “We might be trading away a really good pitcher who will do well after we trade him, but we’ve had enough of the roller coaster?”
That’s the place where the Red Sox should be.
Buchholz is a terrific guy who is a student of pitching. He really understands his craft. If he could put together the physical with the mental, you’d have a Cy Young winner.
But you can’t wait forever.
Move on and replace him with someone who will be your bulldog, innings eater, and ace.