Clay Buchholz: If he ain’t got it by now, he just ain’t gettin’ it


Talked a lot of sports over the long weekend.

From the “Battle of the Bay State” between Boston College and UMass on Saturday (even Ralph Wiggum was confused) to an afternoon spent at the Deutsche Bank Championship with a white-hot Rory McIlroy charging up the leader board, the topics were numerous and varied.

But Clay Buchholz, of all people, kept coming up.

After he fired a 98-pitch, three-hit shutout against the Rays on Sunday, he reemerged as the topic of conversation.

“You know, I was talking with someone yesterday who said if you could get 14-12, 4.20 out of Buchholz, he’d be fine with it.”

“That’s Tim Wakefield.”

“Exactly. And you knew Wakefield’s ceiling and you were fine with it. But knowing what Buchholz is capable of, it’s absolutely maddening.”

We all shook our heads.

What’s the 30-year old right-hander capable of? We’ve been over it before. 12-1, 1.74 last year in 16 starts.

But I’m partial to his 2010 season: 17-7, 2.33 in 28 starts, leading the league in ERA+ and finishing sixth in the Cy Young voting. It’s one of just three times in his seven-year career (this year included) he’s eclipsed 16(!) starts, and the only campaign that combined relative durability with consistent results. Four years later, is it realistic to expect those results again?

To paraphrase late-2000’s Auto-Tune virtuoso T-Pain: if he ain’t got it by now, he just ain’t gettin’ it.

The Red Sox certainly hoped for it when they signed him to a four-year extension in April of 2011. His journey from healthy to shelved to vexed to unhittable to mediocre to completely bamboozled has come at a cost just north of $17 million. Using WAR, with teams paying around $6 million for a win in 2014, Buchholz’s 5.7 WAR over those four seasons is a relative bargain.

But next year, his salary shoots up to $12 million (with club options in 2016 and 2017 at $13 million, annually). To earn his paycheck, Buchholz would have to be worth more than two Wins Above Replacement. He’s only occupied that space for two seasons of his career: in 2010 and last year. This season, Buchholz has a -1.4 WAR.

That’s right: Chris Capuano, a replacement-level pitcher released by the Red Sox on July 1st, has been significantly better than Buchholz in 2014.

Do the Red Sox want a guy who’s been worse than Capuano two of the last three seasons making $12 million next year and blocking the path to the Majors for one of their prized young arms? Probably not. But they don’t really have a choice. And I can’t imagine another team wanting to cut in on their dance.

The righty can throw as many shutouts against the Astros and Devil Rays as he wants. I know that, for every tease of consistency, there will be another DL stint. Every dominant run will be followed by mess of box scores that make Red Sox fans long for the halcyon days of Wakefield, or even John Burkett. At least you knew he’d get lit up in the first inning, then settle down.

In 13 months, Clay Buchholz will be a free agent. It can’t come soon enough for me.