Clay Buchholz Trade Talks Inevitable, But Keeping Pitcher Could Be Best Bet

This is the Clay Buchholz the Boston Red Sox and their fans have longed to see — for a long time.

The Red Sox right-hander dazzled again Monday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, dominating Toronto’s loaded lineup in Boston’s 3-1 series-opening win at Rogers Centre. With the win, Buchholz extended a stretch of dominant performances. In his last seven games, he’s 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP, and he’s been even better over his last three starts, allowing just two earned runs over 22 innings.

For now, at least, Buchholz is the “ace” the Red Sox have badly needed — but “for now” is the key term. That’s always the case with Buchholz isn’t it? As dominant as he can be, as unhittable as he can seem, it’s always one start away from going south.

Naturally, when Buchholz rattles off dominant string like this, the first inclination is to wait for the bad to follow. Pair that with the fact that the Red Sox sit in the American League East cellar, there’s a natural reaction to say the club should look to maximize Buchholz’s value and trade him.

Exploring a trade makes plenty of sense. Buchholz’s current value is higher than it’s been in a long time. He’s pitching well and perhaps most importantly, his contract is team-friendly. Buchholz potentially has two seasons left on his deal after this season. He has team options for 2016 and 2017, costing a total of $26.5 million. It’s certainly conceivable the Red Sox could get a nice package in return if they shop Buchholz.

They might want to think long and hard before trading Buchholz, though. He’s unpredictable and has been injury-prone in the past, reputations that are likely to follow him for the rest of his career. But when he’s on, he undeniably has top-of-the-rotation ability. Even if he can be somewhere in between painfully unpredictable and ace, he’s still a serviceable middle-of-the-rotation guy, especially at that price tag. Even if he’s a No. 3 for the duration of the deal, that’s a steal at a $13 million price tag. If he’s able to be even more than that (an admittedly huge if), he becomes one of the game’s top bargains.

One of the other issues here is balancing the short- and long-term prospects of the ballclub. Trading Buchholz almost certainly would help Boston’s long-term outlook, assuming the Sox got prospects in return. But this is Boston and patience is at a premium. Plus, it’s not unrealistic to think they’re close to contending again. They have a good core of young talent with players like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart, all who’ve flashed their potential and have displayed the ability to progress.

The pitching has underachieved, but the future seems salvageable, and that’s where the case to keep Buchholz might be the strongest. Assuming he doesn’t totally lose it again at some point, Buchhholz figures to slot nicely into the rotation alongside guys like Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez over the next couple of seasons. If those two continue to progress — Porcello is still just 26 and Rodriguez is 22 — that’s a formidable top half of the rotation. With Brian Johnson waiting in the wings, there’s the foundation of a rotation to take you through 2017.

The Red Sox should listen to offers on just about anyone at this point. And if someone really wants to overpay for Buchholz, they’d be ridiculous not to consider moving him. However, despite Buchholz’s shortcomings, the best play both in the short and long term might be to hold on to the right-hander.

Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images

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