When Theo Epstein was introduced as general manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2002, he made a proclamation that he would turn the organization into a “scouting and player development machine.”
That remains the mantra. But nearly a decade later, the products of that machine are continuing to go through another organizational initiative, designed solely to retain them.
The latest is Clay Buchholz, a first-round pick in 2005 who has been rewarded with a four-year extension worth nearly $30 million. The club has options for two additional years, which could keep Buchholz in the fold through 2017.
“We feel good about these homegrown guys because we know them,” Epstein said. “We knew Jon Lester when we signed that deal. We knew Dustin Pedroia. We knew Kevin Youkilis. We feel like we know Clay Buchholz after many years together and the man he is now, and we really trust him going forward.”
The contract buys out the first year of Buchholz’s free agency, for which he would’ve become eligible in 2015. The two option years could make that three. Lester went a similar route when he inked a five-year extension (with a club option) before the 2009 season. Pedroia signed a six-year extension and Youkilis a four-year extension that same offseason.
Years before that, Buchholz had already made a significant splash, throwing a no-hitter in his second major league start. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing thereafter. Buchholz was up and down between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket over the next two years and had times when he was not the best soldier in the organization, sometimes less-than-pleased not only with his performances but the fact that he couldn’t stick with the big club.
The faith that the organization showed him during those rocky times first resulted in his breakthrough 2010 campaign, during which he was 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA. Next came the extension, which had Buchholz all smiles.
“I owe a lot, just about everything, to the Red Sox today,” Buchholz said with his family by his side.
“They drafted me, they gave me the opportunity to come up to Boston and pitch even through a couple of down years. There’s always going to be doubts. This game is not nearly as easy as some of the guys make it seems sometimes, but I definitely got to the highest highs in this game and it took its toll on me. I thought I was better than I was at the time.
“Just the fact that they stuck with me through those hard situations and allowed me to make this decision, it’s a really good feeling for everybody.”
“Everybody” includes that family. Buchholz and his wife, Lindsay, had a baby girl last season. Their presence in the young right-hander’s life may been the deciding factor in obtaining financial security at this time, rather than progress through arbitration year-by-year, which likely would’ve yielded healthy returns if he continued to post solid results.
“It was a difficult decision in that respect,” Buchholz said of weighing the two options. “You play this game to be secure and make money because you’re not going to have a chance to play baseball forever and, everybody knows that. If it was me, and I didn’t have a wife and kid that I had to take care of, it might’ve been a decision that we would’ve thought about a little bit more. From the first time that we started talking I knew what my heart was telling me and what my family and I both wanted, so that’s what drove me to this decision.”
Coincidentally, the announcement comes a day after Buchholz lasted just 3 2/3 innings in a loss to the New York Yankees, just as the Josh Beckett extension announcement came a day after he was roughed up against the Yankees on Opening Day last year.
While the Beckett deal involved an older pitcher who had arrived via trade, the Buchholz maneuver is one that is more along the organizational philosophy. It also helps limit the number of times in the coming years that Epstein will have to pay attention to the free agent market as he fills out his rotation. John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka have come through that route (Matsuzaka through the posting process, technically), and Epstein admits that in a big market such moves are inevitable. If it can ever be avoided by having security in a guy like Buchholz, that’s the best-case scenario.
“I think what made it worthwhile for the club is getting a free agent year guaranteed and getting an option on two free agent years,” Epstein said. “We all know the cost of free agent pitching, so the further you can put off the decision from the club’s perspective, the better.”
Lester, Beckett and Lackey become free agents after the 2014 season. The fact that Buchholz, the youngest of the bunch, is around at least through 2015 helps prevent Epstein from conducting a top-to-bottom overhaul of the rotation. There probably will still be some work to do at that point, but the team is pleased to know that at least one of their highly touted young arms will still be around.
Again, there is incredible comfort knowing who that guy is, and how he came to be.
“I think there’s less risk, you know them through and through,” manager Terry Francona said. “From the time, 18-, 19-, 20-years-old, we know everything about them, from our player development people to the major league staff to the front office. You’re always trying to assume the least amount of risk possible as an organization.”
And with risk throwing out the window and security, both for Buchholz and the organization, thrust in, he can now shed light on how far he has come in an organization that had it mapped out from the moment Epstein stepped to that podium in Nov. 2002.
“It’s an honor,” Buchholz said. “This is where I envisioned myself being 10 years ago. This is what I wanted to do, and I don’t think I could be part of a better organization than this one right now.”