The Red Sox rotation is a mess with only two pitchers ready for the season. One option is former Red Sox starter and current free agent Clay Buchholz.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and right now, the Boston Red Sox are desperate for any warm body with a major league arm that can pitch. In the wake of losing most of their core 2016-2019 starting rotation to trades, free agency, and injury the Red Sox inch ever close to the 2020 regular season with a rotation of Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and little else. Maybe Martin Perez, but he’s at best a fifth starter.
Interim manager Ron Roenicke and Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom have both stated that the Red Sox may begin the season with not one, but two spots in the rotation using the opener concept. Bloom also just last week signed another pitcher, free agent Collin McHugh, to bolster the rotation. The problem is McHugh, like Chris Sale, has been dealing with elbow discomfort since 2019 season and may not be ready to pitch for a while.
At this late date in the offseason, the pickings are slim on the free agent market, especially for starting pitching, but there is one name that is a bit intriguing, even if only for morbid curiosity’s sake: old friend Clay Buchholz.
Buccholz spent the first ten seasons of his career (2007-2016) with the Red Sox before departing in free agency. He spent 2017 with the Philadelphia Phillies, 2018 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and 2019 with the Toronto Blue Jays and now finds himself without a team.
Depending on how you view things, Red Sox fans will either remember Buchholz as a talented pitcher who struggled with injuries, or a disappointing, fragile pitcher with mental makeup issues who had a few brief flashes of promise. The truth, as usual with these types of things, probably lies somewhere in the middle. For his career, Buchholz’ numbers looks like this;
2007-2019: 90-69 W-L, 3.98 ERA, 1024 K, 458 BB, 1332.1 IP, 1.298 WHIP (218 starts)
Those aren’t great numbers, but they’re respectable. If his last three seasons (since departing the Red Sox) are removed, which look like this…
2017 (Phillies): 0-1 W-L, 12.27 ERA, 5 K, 3 BB, 7.1 IP, 2.591 WHIP (2 starts)
2018 (Diamondbacks): 7-2 W-L, 2.01 ERA, 81 K, 22 BB, 98.1 IP, 1.037 WHIP (16 starts)
2019 (Blue Jays): 2-5 W-L, 6.56 ERA, 39 K, 16 BB, 59.0 IP, 1.492 WHIP (12 starts)
…then his Red Sox career looks like this:
2007-2016 (Red Sox): 81-61 W-L, 3.80 ERA, 899 K, 417 BB, 1167.2 IP, 1.297 WHIP (188 starts)
While those numbers don’t average out particularly well over the length of his career, any Red Sox fan who remembers Buchholz’ career knows that his time in Boston was filled with very high highs and very low lows. He won two World Series (2007, 2013) and contributed to both victories, especially the latter. He threw a no-hitter in his second career start on September 1, 2007.
Statistically, Buchholz’ best seasons with the Red Sox came in 2010 (17-7, 2.33 ERA, 120 K) and 2013 (12-1, 1.74 ERA, 96 K). He also had some abysmal seasons in Boston and for the most part was a .500 (or barely above) pitcher during his time with the Sox. Perhaps the most maddening thing about him was the fact that the team and fans could see that he had electric stuff, but he just couldn’t seem to put everything together on a consistent basis.
The rap on Buchholz in Boston, driven in large part by the sports media, was that he was “soft” both mentally and physically. Both of these accusations did have some merit, but probably not quite to the extent that Boston sports talking heads thought they did. In a lot of ways, Buchholz was the pitching equivalent of another former homegrown Red Sox teammate of his, Jacoby Ellsbury.
Still, despite everything, Buchholz proved that he could handle pitching in Boston; you don’t last ten years in this brutal market without being able to handle it, no matter how you do it. While his seasons with the Phillies and Blue Jays weren’t great, he had a good, career-saving year in 2018 with Arizona. The question with him is, as always, can he stay healthy? Especially now at age 35, that’s the biggest concern at an age where most pitchers are winding down their careers.
Right now, though, beggars can’t be choosers. The Red Sox are in desperate need of starting pitching and Clay Buchholz is a known quantity. He should also be relatively cheap, having made $3 million in 2019 for the Blue Jays. It doesn’t appear that he has too many, if any suitors right now, so the Red Sox should be able to get him for comparable money if not a little less. Perhaps a cheaper contract with some performance incentives would even get the deal done.
Clay Buchholz is an older, inconsistent pitcher and would obviously not be a long-term solution in Boston. However, right now the Red Sox rotation is a complete mess and just needs some major league arms who can eat some innings. If he can stay relatively healthy and make fifteen to twenty starts in 2020 (which is a LOT to ask, I know), Buchholz could be just the kind of stopgap that the Red Sox desperately need right now.