As we continue to forecast what the 2017 Pirates may look like, here at TPOP we’ll occasionally pinpoint a player that we think may help meet the goal of returning the 2017 Pirates to the playoffs. It’s no secret that the 2016 Pirates’ rotation was one of the main culprits for their lack of success. As it stands right now, there are two starters I’m comfortable writing their names in pen (Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon) and then a whole lot of light penciling after that, including:
- Chad Kuhl — Steve likes him as a #4, I think he’s a #5 or bullpen guy
- Tyler Glasnow — He had a very uneven debut and still has a lot to work on
- Steven Brault — I don’t see much here as a viable full-time starter
- Drew Hutchison — The return in the much-maligned Francisco Liriano trade, Hutchison was exiled to the minors
for service time reasonsto work on his pitching mechanics
- Trevor Williams — One of the best athlete Twitter accounts out there, but he’s a borderline #5-type of starter
- Jeff Locke — It’s hard to see him getting a contract tender at this point, due to his Siberia-like existence in September
- Nick Kingham — still working back from Tommy John surgery in May 2015, can’t count on him Opening Day
Seven candidates for three spots. And not a single one of them is a lock. The Pirates should re-sign Ivan Nova , but competition will be fierce on the pitching-starved free agent market this offseason. Personally, I see the Angels making a move for him, as GM Billy Eppler was with the Yankees since 2004 and knows all about him.
So that leaves the trade market as the best avenue to upgrade the Pirates’ rotation. I will continue to carry the flag that the Pirates should trade for the White Sox Jose Quintana, but I’m perhaps tilting at windmills. If the Pirates actually part with minor league prospect talent in a move for a big pitcher, the Pirates may have to add another pitcher in need of some Ray Searage TLC. To that end, Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox seems like a perfect candidate. He’s also the ‘mystery pitcher’ I alluded to in Monday’s 2017 roster/payroll preview.
Buchholz is, surprisingly to me, age-32 in the 2017 season. He was a 2005 draft choice of the Sox in the supplemental 1st round and has had a career with them that has never quite lived up to expectations, due to both multiple injuries and not achieving his performance ceiling. The Sox have a $13.5M option on him for 2017 that they seem fairly certain to pick up, although that wasn’t a guaranteed proposition until he performed well down the stretch as a bullpen/spot starter for them.
The Red Sox have three prime starters in David Price, Rick Porcello, and Drew Pomeranz. They have other options laying around the store, too, but they may just want to move on from the Clay Buchholz Experience at this point. They don’t have to pick up his option of course, but that would be potentially wasting an asset.
Buchholz has never been a model of reliability, as his single-season career-high in innings is 189 back in 2012 (with only one time reaching 170 since then), but maybe he would thrive in a change of scenery trade. Good news! The Pirates and Red Sox have gotten together on multiple trades, so there’s a built-in familiarity at least. That Mark Melancon trade worked out pretty well, even if the Jason Bay one didn’t.
Buchholz’s career stats show a 6.93 K/9, 3.21 BB/9, and a right-at-league-average 47.8% ground ball rate. He throws a 92 mph four-seam fastball, an 89 mph cutter, a 78 mph curve, and an 81 mph change (all per PitchF/X, per Fangraphs). His cutter and change have historically been his best pitches.
The Pirates have reportedly had interest in Buchholz in the past, as this June 2015 article shows from that trade deadline chatter. Of course the Pirates have a file on every player, but this tells me that they’ve really honed in on Buchholz with an array of scouts. I imagine they have continued to closely monitor him throughout this past 2016 season, as well, so as long as something hasn’t drastically changed in their thinking, there could still be a match.
The Red Sox don’t have a ton of pressing needs coming into this offseason, but their bullpen could probably use an extra arm, as both Koji Uehara and Brad Ziegler are free agents. Although not of their caliber, maybe the Pirates can get something for potential non-tender Jared Hughes. This move doesn’t save the Pirates any money on the 2017 payroll, as Hughes may not have factored into their plans anyway, but don’t forget that the Pirates are still $7.42M ahead in the Liriano sell-off trade (Liriano’s $13.67M minus David Freese’s “new money” of $6.25M in 2017).
I guess the question at hand is “Is Clay Buchholz worth it?” Committing $13.5M to him and using their $7.42M of found money from the Liriano trade may seem like a lot for a player that has had a lot of ups and downs like Buchholz. It would only be a one year commitment to him, so they wouldn’t be tying themselves down to a pitcher going headlong into his mid-30’s, and the price is relatively reasonable in today’s baseball economic climate. He’s a far better fit as a #3 than Jon Niese was this past season, let’s put it that way, as there’s much more upside with Buchholz.
Clay Buchholz has all the earmarks of a classic Ray Searage rehab project in need of just a couple of tweaks here, a move on the pitching rubber there, some mechanics refinement over yonder. Plus, unlike most of his other non-AJ Burnett projects, Buchholz has a no-hitter to his name, in his 2nd career start no less. In terms of realistic acquisitions that actually can upgrade the rotation, Buchholz may be the best of the lot.