Unsurprisingly, Dave Dombrowski, John Farrell, and Carl Willis have not had their conversation on Clay Buchholz' place in the rotation overnight. As such, we still aren't sure if he'll make his next start with the Red Sox, but after two months of awful pitching, all signs point to no.
There's been no few calls during the season to move the uncertain members of the rotation--namely Buchholz and Kelly--into the bullpen. For Kelly, the idea has its roots in years gone by. For Buchholz, though, it's basically just the desperate hope to get something out of what we wish more with every new start was just nothing, rather than something far worse. Dombrowksi himself has even suggested whoever is pushed out of the rotation might find themselves pitching in relief.
Strictly speaking, it's always a positive to have the extra arm available. But that positive can easily be outweighed by the negatives of removing anyone from the current bunch in the bullpen. It's been said plenty of times before around here, but this pen has done a very good job of keeping runs off the board, with no obvious weak link to give the boot. Tommy Layne is probably the closest thing since he hasn't really done what he's supposed to against lefties--they hold a .762 OPS against him on the season--but there's no real reason to believe that's anything more than statistical noise, and his season as a whole looks fine excepting some walks.
The tempting move, frankly, is to just designate Buchholz for assignment and be done with it. If someone wants to take on the money owed to him for the rest of the year, fine. If they don't, he'll probably find a team willing to pay him league minimum in hopes of striking gold. The real upside here is just being done with the frustrating Buchholz saga once and for all.
The right move...and I expect most will want to hear this about as much as I want to say it...is to put him on the disabled list (citing a dead arm, soreness, whatever they have to), and see if they can get him right.
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The trend for Buchholz is and has always been periods of greatness ending in injury, with those injuries followed by seasons where he's basically the worst the league has to offer. Then he gets right, has the period of greatness again, and the cycle continues.
The hope, then, would be to get him through to the next period of greatness before the season ended. The Sox could certainly not rely on Buchholz. If Joe Kelly doesn't prove himself over the next few weeks, or Eduardo Rodriguez can't get all the way back, then they'll have to look into adding another starter to fill out the rotation. But there's two long months between the non-waiver deadline and the end of the season, and a lot can happen in that time, potentially requiring the Sox find another arm. And while the plan heading into the season was that the minor leagues would provide that depth, at the moment Roenis Elias is the only rotation depth showing even the slightest sign of life. Should the worst come to pass, and the Red Sox have held onto Buchholz, working on getting him physically right, it's possible that keeping him around will prove the difference between having a replacement-level arm for the stretch run, and an unexpected frontline starter perhaps even into October.
And if he's still bad? Oh well. That's just one or two more headaches before we can finally close the book on Clay Buchholz, Red Sox pitcher once and for all. It's a small risk for a potentially game-changing reward.
The one thing not to do with Buchholz, though, is try him in the bullpen. Not right away. Not even after a DL stint, really. The Red Sox have a full unit right now, and frankly, between Kyle Martin, Anthony Varvaro, and Pat Light--perhaps even Wesley Wright--plenty of better relief option in Pawtucket than Buchholz. There's neither room or need for him, and just because the Red Sox can do that with their beleaguered starter doesn't mean they should.