Clay Buchholz has always been an intriguing subject in relation to trade rumors involving the Boston Red Sox -- and 2009's off season has been no different. The young right-hander has been linked in trade discussions involving everyone from Roy Halladay to Hanley Ramirez during his time in Boston; the most recent discussions surrounding the San Diego Padres' Adrian Gonzalez.
Buchholz has certainly shown that he is more than capable of dominating on the major league level, most notably throwing a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles in September of 2007. However, Buchholz has also shown flashes of insecurity on the mound, specifically regarding the incorporation of his fastball into his repertoire, leading to some well-documented struggles during his still short-lived MLB career.
Every member of 'Red Sox Nation' holds a different opinion on whether Buchholz is best served on the trading block or permanently included as a part of the rotation, and it's a safe assumption that those within Boston's organization are like-minded in relation to this particular subject. If that weren't the case, then we'd have either seen Buchholz moved by now, or trade rumors involving the young pitcher would have ceased. However, as it stands, Buchholz continues to attract potential suitors -- and the Red Sox continue to listen.
Is it time that the Red Sox stop shopping Buchholz and finally allow him to settle into his role in Boston; or will his name continue to litter the rumor mill?
While obtaining a slugger such as Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera via trade may seem like the obvious way to quiet rumblings of a potential offensive downfall for Boston in 2010, trading away a prospect of this caliber, whether now or in the future, should induce hesitation for a plethora of reasons.
First, and perhaps most prominent, is Buchholz's potential. His now-infamous no-hitter of 2007 aside, the denouement to his 2009 season in itself should help galvanize hope amongst the Red Sox faithful. Looking past the final two October starts against the Indians and Angels, Buchholz had a tremendously effective month of September. In six starts the young right-hander amassed a 4-1 record with an ERA of 2.87 in 37 2/3 innings pitched. Buchholz shined down the regular season's stretch-run, averaging nearly seven innings per outing. In fact, take away his final September start against Toronto, in which he surrendered seven earned runs (including five home runs) over just five innings, and Buchholz turned in a 4-0 record with a miniscule 1.39 ERA during the month. Compared to the adversity that Buchholz created for himself in previous seasons, 2009 was a giant step forward in Clay's quest for consistency.
Another reason for hesitancy is the importance placed on his position. The most influencial individual on the field in any given game is the starting pitcher, and not surprisingly, that same spot is one of the most difficult to fill with an impact player. Top of the rotation starters that are developed within their team's system are rare in the world of professional baseball, and Buchholz has the potential to be one of said rarities; a fact not lost on general manager Theo Epstein. Despite the fact that he has shown on several occasions that he isn't adverse to struggling at the major league level, the position that he plays in addition to the potential displayed in his few years in the MLB keeps him among one of the most appealing names in Red Sox trade discussions, and with good reason.
The Red Sox, Epstein in particular, have always expressed their devotion towards the continuation of the development of Buchholz -- even during his shakiest of stretches (on and off the field). It is in this patience that makes it difficult to foresee Boston eventually parting ways with the young pitcher -- and yet another reason why letting Clay go now may be a mistake. As mentioned earlier, it's of near-unanimous opinion that Buchholz has the potential to be a top-tier pitcher at the professional level, so it hardly makes sense to have displayed such a level of equanimity in relation to trading Buchholz to this point only to move him now.
On the other hand, when assessing the potential upside to the opposite end of the spectrum (that being trading Buchholz), finding positives is not a toilsome task by any means.
Using the same formula of potential plus appeal, Buchholz can assuredly create a very intriguing centerpiece to any package of players that could conceivably land the big-name addition that may be needed to transform the Red Sox from a contender to a favorite. In a similar sense that a young starting pitcher's value undoubtedly decreases the allure of being traded at the hands of his particular organization, the same fact subsequently increases the appeal for other teams who may be looking to complete a deal. While Jacoby Ellsbury was reportedly the one player demanded in any potential deal between the Detroit Tigers and the Red Sox regarding Curtis Granderson, Clay Buchholz remains the most highly sought-after name that has been dangled by the members Boston's front-office. It's no coincidence that he has been linked to discussions surrounding high-caliber stars such as Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Roy Halladay (to name a few). His value is undeniable -- however you choose to look at it.
When considering a trade this season, the current rotation featured by the Red Sox should afford them the luxury of moving a player like Buchholz to fill voids left in other areas -- this particular instance calling for an offensive upgrade according to popular opinion. With a surplus of viable options in the rotation entering 2010, Buchholz's departure could be perceived as a less-significant subtraction than it may have been in previous years. Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Jon Lester combine to form one of the most imposing 1-2-3 punches in all of baseball. While a team can never have too much pitching depth, the stability of the Red Sox's rotation as it stands now does nothing but increase the likelihood that he be continue to be shopped; even moreso if Beckett is re-signed during the course of the regular season.
Boston failed to successfully consummate a deal to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres this off season, but with San Diego ostensibly in position to struggle yet again in 2010, it's more than probable that Gonzalez will again find himself amidst trade rumors surrounding next year's trade deadline. While David Ortiz was one of the best hitters statistically during the second half of last season, his positive production is hardly the certainty that it once was. Another slow start from Ortiz may force management to re-address the offensive issue mid-season. If someone like Adrian Gonzalez is again made available at the deadline, his consistent production and friendly contractual obligations may be too enticing to pass up for the Red Sox, even at the cost of Buchholz.
However, thanks in large part to the Red Sox's pitching staff, namely the starting rotation, it would require a truly dismal output from this offense to have a profound impact on Boston's considerations as a contender. That being said, there may be too much emphasis being placed on the subtraction of Jason Bay's production and not enough on the potential upside to the newly-formed lineup. Despite Bay's departure, the Red Sox may actually end up having a more successful offensive campaign in 2010 -- all things considered. New additions Victor Martinez, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Beltre all represent offensive upgrades at their respective positions in relation to last year's club (Martinez based on his first full season with Boston). That fact, coupled with the improvements made to the pitching rotation and the defensive alignment, could make this year's Sox a vastly-improved team from an overall outlook.
With Buchholz staying put throughout this entire off season amidst much speculation that the Red Sox were in dire need of a power-hitter to compliment their lineup, it seems less-likely that Theo Epstein is willing to move his prized developmental product (at least this season).
So, while it appears that Buchholz is safely entrenched in Boston for the time being; just how long before his name again resurfaces in the rumors section? And whatever they decide to do -- will it end up being the right move?