The Boston Red Sox have been eliminated from the playoffs and it’s time that fans start to look towards next year. The failure that was the 2015 season can be placed largely on the rotation. Lisa Carney sorts through the facts and decides whether or not the Red Sox should pick up the Clay Buchholz option.
The hiring of Mike Hazen as the Red Sox’ Senior Vice President/General Manager means the big pieces of the Red Sox front office are in place. This is good news for fans as the team’s focus can now shift to building a playoff caliber baseball team.
This season’s pitching staff played out as a revival of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, so most of the fixing will have to start there. Front and center of the rotation unknowns is Clay Buchholz and his thirteen million dollar club option. Do the Red Sox begin the reconstruction of the starting five by picking up Buchholz’s option or do they say, “see ya later” and part ways with the enigmatic and currently rehabbing hurler?
To the average Joe, thirteen million dollars is quite the yearly salary. It’s difficult to wrap your head around paying a guy that much when he just barely squeaked out half a season of work. But it also shouldn’t be difficult for the average Joe to see that when healthy, Clay is one of the most dynamic pitchers in the game. So how does that dichotomy translate to Clay’s role in 2016?
What Are The Facts?
Not too many were surprised when Buchholz was named 2015’s Opening Day starter. Behind the broad shoulders of previous aces, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, Clay nicely put together multiple streaks of greatness, including a no-hitter on September 1, 2007. So given the choices, he had to be the guy.
To Buchholz’s credit, he met the challenge and in his first 17 starts, pitched 110 innings with a line of 7-6, 3.27 ERA, 104 K’s and only 23 walks. The 17-game stretch was capped by a brilliant Fourth of July complete game against Houston that missed being a shutout when the Astros squeaked out a lone 9th inning run. Unfortunately, all the momentum and a good deal of the steam in the Sox season was gone when he lasted a mere four innings in his next start and left the mound – never to be seen again.
This is the frustrating ride a fan takes when they follow Clay Buchholz.
Facts are though, that put in the perspective of his talent, thirteen million is an absolute steal. It’s not until you put the workhorse expectations of an ace on him that Clay’s paycheck starts to make fans skittish. This is why he can’t be the Opening Day starter in 2016. However, it also can’t be any of the other guys currently in-house. Dave Dombrowski and his talent evaluators have plenty of work and stacks of stats to sort through as they target the next Red Sox ace.
The luxury of talented prospects allows the Red Sox to pursue a trade to fill the void. A possible free agent signing of David Price, Johnny Cueto or Jordan Zimmermann would also work nicely. Either way, top of the rotation talent doesn’t come cheaply. To get an idea of the contract coming the Red Sox way, look at the top five salaries for starting pitchers in 2016:
Clayton Kershaw ($34.5M)
Max Scherzer ($22.1M)
Felix Hernandez ($25.8M)
Justin Verlander ($28M)
CC Sabathia ($25M)
There’s no reason for any of those pitchers to look at that list and not pencil themselves near the top. The anticipation of that huge payday makes some fans want to pinch pennies and look for ways to clear deadweight contracts. Couple that with Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens and Brian Johnson seemingly ready to contribute at the very satisfying price tag called league minimum and the ups and downs of Clay’s durability leave him labeled as the obvious odd man out.
There’s No Crying Over Spilt Milk In Baseball
But this is team construction, and management can’t act like a whiny, jilted lover, “you let me down, I’ll never trust you again.” Leaning on Buchholz to be the ace was the wrong choice and it was one of a few factors that cost members of management their jobs. However, the 2016 team will be stronger with Clay Buchholz and his $13 million option penciled in anywhere in the 2-5 rotation spots. Arguably, Rodriguez is ready to permanently join the starting five, but all three of the young arms would benefit from time in AAA to refine secondary pitches. Then of course, injuries will happen – Maybe even to Buchholz. That’s why there’s two things in life you can never have enough of – baseball topics to debate and pitching.
The answer to this debate is clear – Clay should stay.