I don’t really like roller coasters, if we’re being honest with each other. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the appeal. There is a legitimate adrenaline rush involved when reaching each individual peak and valley. That anything could go wrong at any given moment — even though you know it almost certainly won’t — is thrilling. At the end of the day, though, it’s just a really fast car going up and down steep hills that makes you want to puke.
I don’t know. Perhaps I’m the problem.
This fact makes it even weirder that I am much more fond of Clay Buchholz than your typical Red Sox fan. If any athlete’s career could be described as a roller coaster ride, it’s his. There’s no telling what you’re going to get from him in any given season. Hell, on any given pitch.
This season has followed the same pattern, and his latest uphill ride* has people thinking about his future. Specifically, the question of whether or not the team should and/or will execute Buchholz’s $13.5 million option for the 2017 season.
The way I see it, there are three ways this could go down. Let’s look at the arguments for each of them.
*Are his good stretches the uphill part or the downhill part? Food for thought.
Void the Option
For the majority of the 2016 season, this seemed like the obvious decision. Sure, coming into the year, we all (or just me, whatever) figured that he’d at least pitch well enough to earn this option. I mean, $13.5 million isn’t that much money in baseball terms.
Well, Buchholz saw those assumptions, laughed, poured six gallons of water over his head and pitched to a 5.91 ERA while allowing an .830 OPS to his opponents over the first half. It was pretty clear early on that we were watching Bad Buchholz this season. Even with his recent stretch, the righty has a 5.36 FIP, a 5.51 DRA and a 124 cFIP. Basically, there are no good things that can be said about the bulk of Buchholz’s season.
In addition to the miserable performance, it’s starting to look like the Red Sox might have a legitimate rotation of five arms that are all locked up for the near future. David Price, Steven Wright, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez isn’t going to be the best rotation in baseball, but it’s a solid enough group.
As such, Boston might not really need Buchholz next year. On the other hand, they may need the $13.5 million. While it’s not that much money for a baseball team and the Red Sox should be able to afford that plus a productive offseason, the reality is every team has a budget. Whether you think the Red Sox should be close to their budget at this point (I don’t) doesn’t change the fact they probably are. Unfortunately, they’ll need to allocate some resources for the bullpen again. Plus, they may need to address their corner infield situation depending on their feelings towards Travis Shaw, Yoan Moncada, Sam Travis, Hanley Ramirez and possibly even Pablo Sandoval.
Execute The Option and Keep Him
This is the option that is starting to pick up some steam against all odds. Really, the argument is coming due to his last three starts, but his entire second half is worth considering. While much of the second-half work has come out of the bullpen, he has looked like a different pitcher since the break. After Tuesday’s masterful outing, he has a 3.00 ERA in the second half while allowing a .664 OPS. The most important improvement has been his newfound ability to limit home runs. After allowing a whopping 17 homers in the first half, Buchholz has yet to give up a long ball since the break.
The obvious issue is that the rotation is theoretically full next year, as I discussed above. Of course, the old saying goes that you can never have too much pitching. Someone is going to get hurt, or just plain suck, and the Red Sox will need their depth. Buchholz can be that depth. As I’ve alluded to many times already, they have the money to keep him even if he’s not a lock for the rotation. Hell, he could be part of the bullpen solution that they will be searching for this winter. There’s even a chance he could start the year in the rotation again if they trade another one of the presumptive starters to help the rest of their roster.
Execute the Option and Trade Him
This is the “just right” option of the three for all you Goldilocks And The Three Bears fans out there. The biggest key to remember about all this is that the upcoming free-agent market for starting pitchers is an absolute joke. Rich Hill is the best pitcher, and while he’s shown some real talent, he’s also going to be 37 next year and can’t stay on the mound. He just finished recovering from a blister that apparently ate his entire hand. After him, we have guys like Jeremy Hellickson, Andrew Cashner, Ivan Nova and maybe James Shields. That’s gross, to put it analytically.
Teams will always be looking for starting pitching, and while Buchholz might not be better than those options, only paying him for one year at $13.5 million is likely a better option than handing any of the names above a multi-year deal. Boston wouldn’t get back a star in this kind of trade, of course, but they could get some legitimate bullpen help back. Keep in mind: Wade Miley fetched Carson Smith. Perhaps if the free agent market gets really out of hand, they could even get that corner infield help. Of course, all of this hinges on Buchholz being productive and healthy for the rest of the year.
The truth is it’s too early to choose any of these options right now. That’s the boring, obvious answer, but it’s the only logical one. Three good starts and eight strong relief appearances doesn’t wipe away what Buchholz did for the majority of the season. Plus, before Tuesday’s outing in Tampa, he had a pretty ugly 9:4 K:BB ratio in 20 innings in the second half, making his strong stretch a little suspect.
On the other hand, there are some real changes Buccholz has made with the help of Brian Bannister.
Right now, I think I am leaning towards the first option. It’s easy to look at the recent numbers and think that Buchholz is back, but it’s not nearly enough to wipe away the memories of the first half. If the Red Sox need more pitching depth, they can probably find a cheaper option, albeit with less upside.
With that being said, if he continues to look like the guy he was on Tuesday, that opinion could quickly change. And at the end of the day, Buchholz finishing strong enough to have his option picked up would be the most Buchholz thing of all time.
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