He was equal parts talented and tortured, a pitcher capable of so much if only he could stay off the disabled list or at least stop throwing the ball over to first base.
In the end, Clay Buchholz’s greatest value to the Red Sox was having another team pay him. The righthander was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday for minor league infielder Josh Tobias.
The Phillies agreed to take on Buchholz’s entire $13.5 million contract for 2017. That places the Red Sox comfortably below Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax threshold of $195 million.
Buchholz spent 10 seasons with the Sox, going 81-61 with a 3.96 earned run average. He threw a no-hitter in his second major league start, twice made the All-Star team, and was a key figure on the 2013 World Series champions.
But Buchholz also landed on the disabled list every year from 2010-15 and had a 4.65 ERA as a starter over the last three seasons. He was 8-10, 4.78 in 2016.
Buchholz went 19 days without pitching in July and was demoted to the bullpen several times. He pitched well in September, prompting the team to pick up his contract option for 2017. Then Buchholz became a spare part after the team acquired Chris Sale earlier this month.
“We got a prospect that we liked, got a club where [Buchholz] can go and start for them, which he wouldn’t necessarily have that opportunity here,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “The deal that made the most sense was dealing Clay.”
The benefits of that, beyond not paying a substantial tax for going over the limit, are significant.
By trading Buchholz, the Red Sox will have payroll available to make moves during the season. Getting under the limit also would allow the team to sign a qualified free agent next winter without losing a compensatory draft pick or pool money for signing international amateur players.
In addition, staying below $195 million would reset the tax to 20 percent should the Sox exceed the limit in future years.
“To me I think it’s advantageous to be below the CBT just based on the new basic agreement,” Dombrowski said. “It’s something that we were hopeful of doing. It fell into play here very well for us. It’s also a situation where it creates some flexibility for us as we go forward.”
Now the Sox have Sale, Rick Porcello, and David Price in place as starters with Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Steven Wright competing for two spots in spring training. The loser likely fits into the bullpen.
“We’ll just sort of sort through that as we go through it,” Dombrowski said.
The rebuilding Phillies see Buchholz providing stability to a young rotation. He also could be valuable trade fodder come July if he bounces back.
“Going into spring training, we value the depth,” general manager Matt Klentak said.
In addition to Sale, the Red Sox obtained righthanded reliever Tyler Thornburg and signed first baseman Mitch Moreland this offseason. Dombrowski does not foresee any more significant additions, even after clearing out Buchholz’s salary.
“The move was not made to create the flexibility to go pursue other individuals that would be perceived as the big names out there,” he said.
As presently constituted, the Red Sox would go to spring training with a less imposing lineup than last season but better pitching.
“As far as right now today, I don’t have that driving force to go out and do something,’’ Dombrowski said.
Tobias, 24, was a 10th-round pick of the 2015 draft out of the University of Florida. The switch-hitter had a career .801 OPS in the minors and could prove helpful.
With David Ortiz retiring, Junichi Tazawa signing with Miami, and now Buchholz being traded, second baseman Dustin Pedroia is the only player on the roster who was with the Red Sox prior to 2013.
In addition to the trade, the Sox also announced that infielder Matt Dominguez, outfielder Junior Lake, catchers Dan Butler and Jake DePew, and pitchers Edgar Olmos and Marcus Walden were invited to spring training as non-roster players.
All but Butler are new to the organization.