As it stands, Clay Buchholz is facing a second straight offseason of uncertainty. His contract extension, signed back in 2011, carried with it two team option years for 2015 and 2016. After another season cut short by injury, that left Buchholz unsure of whether he'd be headed into free agency for the first time in his life, or on the way back to Fort Myers for spring training, pitching once again with no idea as to where he'd stand in nine months' time.
But for all that most would prefer certainty to the alternative, Buchholz isn't exactly pushing the Red Sox for a contract extension just yet. Speaking to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald, Buchholz gives the reasons that his most ardent supporters and harshest critics alike can agree with:
"I still think I have some stuff to prove before we even get into [extension discussions]," Buchholz said. "Being prepared and coming out and pitching to your capabilities, starting the days your name is on the lineup card and trying not to miss one of those starts -- that's big. I think if it all goes well through the first half of the season and I'm healthy going into the second half, then maybe [we can discuss an extension]. But I'm not going to press on that aspect of it. I'm going to try to cooperate with everybody and help this team win baseball games."
Long story short: it's all about consistency. Not just being able to perform at a consistent level, but being able to consistently perform at any level at all! We all know Buchholz' story by now, with streaks of absolute brilliance, injury-related absence, and utter incompetence coming one after the other, and in exactly that order. For being such an inconsistent mess, you can kind of set your clock by Buchholz all the same.
For Buchholz, though, there's precious little time to establish the level of consistency he's hoping for. He needs to start in 2016, and not let up until free agency begins after 2017. After all, consistency by its very nature is not something that can be established in one season, and even if Buchholz comes out and produces another 2.33 ERA as he did in 2010, the Red Sox can just pick up his option. Yes, they lose some leverage in negotiations if they last until 2017 and Buchholz nears free agency, but even those who think the Red Sox were completely insane to have "low-balled" Jon Lester after 2013 would likely advise an abundance of caution when dealing with Clay Buchholz.
And we're not just talking about Clay Buchholz after another couple of years. While Red Sox fans may still remember the day he came up fresh faced from the minors and no-hit the Orioles, he'll be 33 by the time Boston's options have run their course. Not the best situation for a pitcher who already has a major durability knock against him.
There are worlds where the stars align perfectly. Where Buchholz turns it all the way around and puts together two years of excellent pitching while the Red Sox find the perfect timing and compromise between risk and reward to lock him up. It's just that those worlds are not exactly likely. Far more likely are the worlds where Buchholz gets hurt again in one of the next two years while still looking like a strong rotation option when healthy. In that scenario, the Red Sox would be able to afford Buchholz, but he still wouldn't come cheap, as no pitcher comes cheap in a world where Ian Kennedy gets $70 million. The Red Sox would probably rather spend that money--and some more on top of it--for a sure thing then roll the dice again. Gambles are better left as one-year fliers, after all, and Buchholz will likely command more than that.
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Or, alternatively, he could be lights out, and then you're looking at a really big price tag. One that Boston would likely pass on in favor of, again, the more certain thing rather than the 33-year-old roller-coaster ride.
Or he could be terrible and then this all goes out the window anyways.
The point is, with Buchholz you find yourself having to account for every scenario in about equal measures since each one seems as likely as the last. Sure, with David Price you have it in the back of your mind that he might turn into a pumpkin on day one, but you don't exactly give that much thought since the chances of it actually happening are just so low. This is the sort of high-risk player that many teams in the league would be interested in. Those that are in the middle, can't quite afford the top-flight guys like Price, but need something to push them over the top. If he falls apart, well, for most teams the difference between 82 wins and 77 is a draft pick. But if Buchholz is the dominant force he can be, he can take that middling team and get them a wild card berth.
That's just not the sort of risk the Red Sox need to be taking for multiple years and big dollars. And I say this as a fairly vocal Clay Buchholz supporter. He's a bargain at one year and $13 million because there's only so much that can go wrong on a deal like that. If he's terrible this year, oh well, bring the next man--Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Roenis Elias, even Steven Wright--up for a shot. The Red Sox have a bunch of them in the wings. Hell, even exercise his option because, again, I'll take that 50-50 coin flip for even just 120 excellent innings of Buchholz.
But the second we start looking at Ian Kennedy's number as a baseline for even bad Buchholz, with it only rising from there with his success? Even if we adjust it some for age, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox belong in that particular market. Good, bad, or something in between, these seem like the last years of Clay Buchholz in a Red Sox uniform.