The minute the announcement was made, the conspiracy theories began swirling. Clay Buchholz had barely finished his most recent ho-hum start at Pawtucket Sunday afternoon when the Red Sox announced he—and not a pitcher already in the five-man rotation—would make the first start for the big league club following the All-Star break.
Whispers have included everything from the possible (he’s being showcased for a potential trade, perhaps for Toronto ace Roy Halladay) to the probable (they want to give him another look at the MLB level so they know what to expect going forward) to the borderline preposterous (the Red Sox are pretending to showcase the youngster in order to entice the Yankees to overpay for Halladay).
The latter nugget is courtesy of Michael Felger, as delivered on Comcast SportsNet last night. Felger has been known to float ideas suitable for the Tinfoil Helmet Hall of Fame at times, and my guess is that’s the case this time. But the references to a trade, particularly for Halladay, continue to abound, even if just below the surface.
I’m here to say such a move would be a big mistake.
Yes, Halladay is an exceptional pitcher, perhaps one of the top two or three in the American League. Yes, he’s the kind of guy you build a pitching rotation around. And yes, the team would be better right now if he were on the roster.
But there’s such a thing as an embarrassment of riches.
The Red Sox currently boast a rotation that includes the AL’s two winningest pitchers (Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield, each with 11), and that list doesn’t include Jon Lester, who has Cy Young stuff and has been on a white-hot two-month tear.
They also happen to have one of the more compelling reclamation projects in recent memory (Brad Penny) and a future Hall of Famer who is just starting to hit his stride (John Smoltz)—not to mention the deepest and most reliable bullpen in baseball.
So how much better are the team’s chances with Halladay fronting the rotation? Marginally, perhaps. But the Red Sox have the pitching horses to win the World Series—right now. Adding Halladay may increase those odds slightly, but it would require mortgaging a good portion of the pitching future.
To me, that’s not an equation I want any part of.
I can understand that half of Red Sox Nation is drooling over the idea of a rotation that includes Beckett, Lester, Halladay, and Smoltz. But Toronto has made it clear a deal for Halladay would have to include at least three top-level prospects and perhaps a current Major Leaguer or two.
He ain’t coming cheap.
A deal would likely involve at least three of the following: Buchholz, Michael Bowden, Casey Kelly, Daniel Bard, or Manny Delcarmen—and that’s only a list of pitching prospects. Should the Jays wish to dip into the position player pool, they could ask for a Lars Anderson or a Josh Reddick.
There is the argument that the reason you stockpile so many prospects is to trade some when a Halladay-type becomes available. I would understand that if the Sox were in dire straits. But it seems silly to mortgage the future to rent Halladay for a season and a half when it’s quite possible the team has three top-of-the-rotation starters still toiling in the minor leagues.
Buchholz, in particular, is wildly intriguing.
He’s already shown the ability to dominate at the big league level, firing a no-hitter in his second Major League start, but he’s also spent more than half a season getting shelled. What the future holds remains a question.
But I want the answer to come in Boston, not north of the border. I think Buchholz has the stuff of an ace, and at some level the Red Sox clearly agree, or they would have shipped him out of town when the other 29 teams came knocking two seasons ago following his breakthrough debut.
Theo Epstein and his troops have spent years rebuilding a farm system that was depleted during the Dan Duquette era, and they’ve done a remarkable job. But the Halladay trade is one Duquette would have made—throw away a good chunk of the future for a shot at winning immediately.
Funny thing is, the Red Sox already have a shot at winning immediately. In fact, if you ask those around the game, I’d be willing to be they are the favorites in most eyes. Halladay would be an improvement, yes, but it’s not a necessary one, and it’s not one worth the risk.
Those of you with your fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to strike out with your Pedro-for-Carl-Pavano comparisons, save it. Halladay is not at the same stage of his career as Pedro was then, and he’s nowhere near as transcendent a talent.
Also, the Red Sox are nowhere near as desperate for an ace as they were when that swap was made. In fact, they have two or three on the staff already.
And perhaps they have another waiting to make his season debut on Friday.
So here’s hoping Buchholz’ call-up is what it is—a Major League start and only a Major League start.
The first of many in a Red Sox uniform.