The Red Sox are set to trade a #MysteryStarter to a #MysteryTeam in the days, weeks, or perhaps even months to come. And while not even the Red Sox know who will fill in those blanks, they certainly seem to have their preferences. According to Rob Bradford, Drew Pomeranz is moving closer to the Price/Porcello/Sale camp of locks, while Clay Buchholz is their preferred trade chip.
Without news like this, Red Sox fans are left with only speculation. But it was pretty easy to see this coming, particularly the Clay Buchholz part. The reasons so many fans want to be rid of Buchholz might only partially overlap with the front office’s reasons to shop him first and foremost, but one way or another he’s been just about everyone’s obvious choice from the get-go.
Let’s not try to dissect the complicated relation of the Red Sox fanbase with Buchholz right now. Instead, let’s consider the reasons the Sox would like to deal him. First, there’s the lack of reliability. Clay Buchholz has three times in the past 5 years pitched like a top-of-the-rotation starter, including one year in which he was very much a Cy Young worthy ace. All three of those seasons ended early due to injury, or at least had a huge chunk cut out of the middle. It seems like the only times the Sox can count on Buchholz to pitch into August and September are the years where you’d really rather he not pitch at all, though he does at least have a tendency of briefly trending positively when he finally gets through his awful summers. For the Red Sox, that means he’s either hurting their playoff chances in May, or leaving them high-and-dry in September. If 2017 follows the usual cycle, it should be the latter, and the Red Sox would prefer not to have to worry about that.
In that department, though, Buchholz is not necessarily all that much worse than Drew Pomeranz. It’s unfair to say that the Red Sox cannot depend on Pomeranz late in the year based off his 2016 campaign alone—he did struggle as his innings count rose, but that’s not surprising given his move from the bullpen to the rotation, and it would be equally unsurprising to see him build stamina in his next crack at it in 2017. Still, of Boston’s four potential trade chips, none of them rank all that high in terms of dependability for a variety of reasons.
But there are other reasons to try to ship off Buchholz first, one of which is stability. Of their seven starters, Buchholz is the only one headed into free agency after 2017. The Red Sox have a good thing going right now on the mound, it would seem, and they’d very much like that to continue into 2018. While they could perhaps manage that by diving into free agency next year, holding onto the same six guys (one presumably in the bullpen) and not having to worry about outbidding anyone in terms of dollars or prospects is certainly preferable.
Then there’s the financial considerations. Drew Pomeranz is only in his second year of arbitration, and not likely to come too close to Buchholz $13.5 million salary. Dropping Buchholz from payroll would be a significant step in the Red Sox getting under the mark where the luxury tax kicks in, which is even more important now that the new CBA is imposing more than just financial penalties on teams that go over. And while Buchholz’ salary is higher, it’s still extremely reasonable, particularly in a market that’s bereft of starting talent. Though with some teams, even a reasonable contract can end up a sticking point:
Sources: Marlins one of these teams Sox pushed Buchholz, but at $13 mil in 2016 too much at the moment for Marlins https://t.co/TJRAZKuXNm— Scott Miller (@ScottMillerBbl) December 8, 2016
While the Red Sox would very much like to get a good chunk of salary off their payroll, it is worth mentioning that it’s not completely vital. Dave Dombrowski has said there’s no mandate to stay under the luxury tax, making it more of a strategic goal than a financial imperative. Given that Dombrowski has also mentioned that the Sox wouldn’t mind restocking their farm system some with a Buchholz deal (their 40-man roster is largely set for the season), it’s possible they’d be willing to eat some of the salary in order to increase their return.
Still, a Buchholz deal wouldn’t exactly see a blockbuster return. They would very likely recoup a good deal more of what they gave away by trading a Pomeranz or an Eduardo Rodriguez. But the Red Sox’ sights are not currently set on 2021 nearly so much as these next two-to-three years. They aren’t selling out on their future entirely, but they’re also probably not looking to make significant near-future sacrifices for the sake of more distant seasons.