clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Clay Buchholz: Boston's best trade chip, and why they should consider selling

The Red Sox will be sellers at the deadline, but it's not clear whether or not they're even interested in unloading their most likely trade piece.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

There are four parts to the season for most bad teams. There's the early season days of hope which can be as short as a week, or as long as a couple months. There's the mid-season realization that October just isn't going to happen. There's the trade deadline fire sale, and then finally the two months of misery before everyone can finally go home.

This was very much the case for the Red Sox last year. The hope lasted until that 10-game losing streak, the fire sale came with the departure of Jon Lester and John Lackey, and the end was certainly miserable save for some bright spots courtesy Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo.

This year's Red Sox look different, though. And it's all because of that third portion in the fire sale. For starters, they just don't have much to talk to other teams about. Nobody wants Mike Napoli the way he's been playing. If Shane Victorino can come back as strong as he was when he last hit the DL, then some team might be willing to take on his salary for the rest of the year, but nobody's paying a bounty in prospects given his injury history. The Sox are certainly not interested in hearing offers for their best players like Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Eduardo Rodriguez (and Brock Holt?). And while some hold out hope for a Punto deal 2.0 featuring Sandoval and Ramirez, that's not only unlikely, but perhaps entirely unnecessary.

But there is one name that seems to pop up more often than any other when talking potential midseason trades: Clay Buchholz. It's almost a surprise the way some Red Sox fans view him that any team would want him, but reputations are a funny thing, and Buchholz' clearly lags behind his actual performance. For the first five games of the year, Buchholz was the ace of early 2013 returned. Then he imploded in dramatic fashion against the Yankees, and he's spent the rest of the season trying to live down that three-inning, nine-run performance.

To his credit, though, he's done just that. After seven innings of one-run ball on Wednesday, Buchholz' ERA sits at a tidy 3.68. This comes in spite of an awfully high .339 BABIP, with his peripherals--walkout, strikeout, and home run rate among the league's best for qualified starters when taken as a full picture. Looking at only his 2015 results and not his name, it's easy to see why other teams might want him.

It's not just those results, either. Buchholz has the rare appeal of being an acquisition not just for 2015, but 2016 and 2017, and at a price that's reasonable for small market teams to take on. It's even protected against Buchholz struggling, since the $26 million that would be owed to him across 2016 and 2017 is wrapped up entirely in team options. He's a great combination of low risk and high reward for team that can't afford to play heavily on the FA market.

Which all begs the question of why the Red Sox should even consider selling in the first place. After all, this is a team with too few reliable starting pitchers, not too many.

The key word there, though, is reliable. Yes, Clay Buchholz is a good starting pitcher. You will find few who will defend him as stringently as I have. But any and all defenses of Buchholz come with an asterisk: *when healthy. When Clay Buchholz is healthy, he's been very good. But he's been healthy only about 50% of the time since he solidified himself in Boston's starting rotation.

That's not to say the Red Sox should give up on him being healthy and dump him for whatever they can get. Even if there's only a 50% chance the Sox get this Clay Buchholz in 2016, that has significant value to the team. But we also have to acknowledge that this is a Red Sox rotation with quite a few bodies to it. Rick Porcello and Wade Miley are extremely likely to be part of the equation in 2016, as is Eduardo Rodriguez. The Sox also have both Brian Johnson and Henry Owens pushing the majors as is. There's a lot of uncertainty in there as is, with Clay Buchholz ranking right up there with the minor leaguers in degrees of uncertainty.

So why trade Clay Buchholz? To upgrade from him. Not in the trade itself, necessarily. But to open $13 million and a rotation spot, then throw in another chunk of money to add one of the better pitchers available in free agency, or to use the added prospect depth gained from the Buchholz trade to then in turn trade for someone available on that market (in addition to whatever deals they would be making anyways). I hesitate to use the word "ace" because of all the baggage it carries with it, but you get the idea.

This is not advocating for a Clay Buchholz trade. The fact of the matter is the Red Sox could certainly use a pitcher of his caliber in 2016. But if they do see a way to effectively swap Buchholz for someone of the same caliber with a better history of health and reliability, the Red Sox have to at least consider trying to make that upgrade, even if it comes at some cost.