The Boston Red Sox have a decision to make with their starting pitcher Clay Buchholz, who had a roller coaster ride to the 2016 season.
Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com reported that the “32-year-old Buchholz made quite a case for himself over the last six weeks of the season as to why the Red Sox should exercise his $13.5 million option for the 2017 season.” In eight starts between August and September, Buchholz went 4-1, putting his season’s second half ERA to 3.22, a much more respectable figure than the 5.91 ERA that preceded it.
At the end of May, it looked like Buchholz had lost favor with the Red Sox, being bucked from the starting rotation and into the bullpen. While many people speculated that the move meant that Buchholz’s days in Boston were numbered, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski called the struggling veteran “protection” for the other starters. Buchholz, seemingly in limbo, was being kept on the roster to make sure that the team had a replacement for any starter to get sick or injured.
While Buchholz bided his time, he worked hard to regain his form in a relief role. The work paid off for him. Only closer Craig Kimbrel (.152) had a better opposing batting average than Buchholz as a reliever. Buchholz kept lineups to a mere .198 batting average. Even set-up men Brad Ziegler and Koji Uehara, former closers, could only must .234 and .200, respectively.
Then, the protection idea paid off for Dombrowski and the Red Sox. Steven Wright, who was pitching amazingly well, went down with an injury and looked to be a huge loss for Boston. Buchholz, like a prodigal son, came back to the starting rotation and gave them quality starts in pressure situations.
McCaffrey added, “Working exclusively from the stretch, Buchholz found a different rhythm and remade his season to the point where he was on the mound the night the Red Sox clinched the American League East title.”
The answer to the Buchholz situation for the Red Sox seems pretty simple: pay the man.
Instead of having to entice a free agent to come to Boston, paying him a fortune like recent free agents, the Red Sox already have a deal made with Buchholz for $13.5 million. Remember, this is the same man who was instrumental in helping the Red Sox win the 2013 World Series. If Buchholz were to be let go, he could likely fetch a great deal more money than the option that the Red Sox could use with him. If the Red Sox wanted someone else, they would have to pay a great deal more to obtain a pitcher as worthy as Buchholz to do it. Why spend more when they already have the same calibre of player on the roster for less?
That protection Buchholz was providing is still very much needed, as well. The Red Sox have starting pitchers Rick Porcello, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz, and Steven Wright who could be a part of the rotation in 2017; however, there are issues with each of them. Porcello’s Cy Young-esque year followed a dismal 2015, making people wonder if it was a success or a fluke this season. Price and Rodriguez were very inconsistent throughout the regular season. Pomeranz’s health has a ton of question marks surrounding it. And, Wright’s injury should be healed for 2017 but nothing in his past affirms that he can recreate the same success that he had for most of the 2016 season.
Let’s not even start with Joe Kelly’s potential as a starter. His limbo between starter and reliever was even more shocking than Buchholz for the past few seasons.
If the Red Sox want to keep their costs down to bring another big bat or other free agent to the team, they should do the wise thing and use the option on Buchholz to their advantage. If they keep him, Buchholz can either continue to improve as a starter and give stability to the rotation or he can stabilize the bullpen, which has need of it, until one of the other starters gets hurt. Not many teams can say that they have a World Series champion starting pitcher in their bullpen, ready to contribute and fill in at a moment’s notice.