Much like they did last winter when they acquired Jeremy Hellickson from the Diamondbacks and Charlie Morton from the Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies have acquired a veteran starting pitcher to fill a hole in their rotation and eat some innings. This time around, it’s Clay Buchholz, coming over from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for minor leaguer Josh Tobias.
Let’s get this out of the way first – Tobias isn’t really a prospect. He’s a 24-year old tenth round pick from the 2015 MLB Draft that split the 2016 season between A-ball and high-A, slashing a combined .291/.362/.422 with nine homers and ten steals. The Phillies aren’t exactly giving up a king’s ransom here.
Philadelphia will take on the $13.5 million owed to Buchholz in 2017, his final year before free agency. The Red Sox exercised their club option on Buchholz at the beginning of this offseason, but he became he a spare part after the team acquired Chris Sale earlier this month.
In 2016, the 32-year old pitched to an unsightly 4.78 ERA in the AL East, splitting his year between Boston’s rotation and their bullpen. In 139 1/3 innings, Buchholz struck out 93 and walked 55, leading to a career-worst 6.01 K/9 and a 3.55 BB/9 that was his worst mark since way back in 2008. Buchholz also gave up 21 homers in 2016, the second-highest total of his career behind just 2012, when he allowed 25 dingers in 189 1/3 innings.
In a bit of good news for the Phillies, Buchholz was substantially better in the second half of the year, pitching to a 3.22 ERA over 58 2/3 innings. Of course, just eight of his 22 starts came in the second half, though six of those eight starts got the “quality start” stamp stuck on them. If that’s the pitcher the Phillies are getting, rather the pitcher who was gassed after giving up five runs in five or six innings, then their rotation will be substantially improved next season. If not, well, they’re not spending the money anywhere else.
Boston has now somewhat rectified their rotation situation. The trade of Buchholz now means that their starting five consists of Sale, David Price, reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, and two of Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Steven Wright, with prospect Henry Owens and veteran Roenis Elias waiting in the wings as even more (cheap) depth.
As for the Phillies, Buchholz will join a rotation that still includes the veteran Hellickson in 2017, along with 20-something hurlers Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola, and Vincent Velasquez. Given how many starters the Phillies cycled through last season thanks to injury, youngsters Mark Appel, Alec Asher, Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Adam Morgan, Nick Pivetta, and Jake Thompson (all of whom are on the 40-man roster and made it to at least AAA last season) will likely also play a part in their 2017 season.
The acquisition of Buchholz pushes the Phillies’ payroll north of $70 million for the 2017 season, with only Freddy Galvis, Jeanmar Gomez, and Cesar Hernandez looking at raises through arbitration. Boston’s payroll falls to roughly $165 million following the Buchholz trade, though they’re looking at arbitration raises for nine players, including first timers Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr, Brock Holt, and Tyler Thornburg, so they’re not going to be at that level for much longer.
All in all, this is one of those trades that makes sense for both sides, but probably won’t have that much of an impact on either side’s playoff hopes in 2017. If the Red Sox were counting on Buchholz for crucial innings, something has gone wrong with their plan going into the year, while if Buchholz is a key part of the Phillies rotation this year, something has gone improbably well for them.