Feet of Clay: Boston Red Sox Should Part with Clay Buchholz

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIINovember 24, 2009

BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Clay Buchholz #61 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after giving up a two run homer in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 29, 2009 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Clay Buchholz is the pride and joy of the Boston Red Sox’s farm system.

With a minor league record of 31-14 with a 2.42 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and a 4.05 K/BB ratio, it was clear that Buchholz was destined for glory even before he hurled a no-hitter in his second career Major League start.

The Red Sox think very highly of him—so highly, in fact, that GM Theo Epstein lost out on chances to acquire Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Adrian Gonzalez because of his unwillingness to part with Buchholz.

Sure, it’s always hard to trade a top prospect. But is it really wise for Buchholz to remain effectively untouchable?

Over the past few days, it has become clear that the Detroit Tigers are planning a fire sale. Curtis Granderson is known to be on the trading block, and Edwin Jackson’s name has also surfaced in rumors.

But the most intriguing player the Tigers could move to free up payroll is Miguel Cabrera.

A World Series hero in his rookie season, Cabrera has averaged .311/33/117 with a .925 OPS over seven big league seasons—and the reason Joe Mauer’s MVP selection was not unanimous is only 26 years old.

If the Red Sox haven’t already called about Cabrera, they will. Unless Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has completely lost it, Epstein will learn that, in order to acquire Miggy, Boston would have to part with Buchholz.

If that stops Epstein from pulling the trigger, Red Sox Nation should initiate a coup d’etat.

Buchholz is a very talented pitcher, yes, and I would love to see him dominating opposing hitters in a Boston uniform. But why would the Red Sox choose an unproven prospect over an established slugger?

In 168 big league innings over the last two seasons, Buchholz has gone 9-13 with a 5.36 ERA. He’s posted a 1.56 WHIP, a 4.1 BB/9 rate, a 1.3 HR/9 rate, and an unappealing 1.82 K/BB ratio.

Obviously one would expect those numbers to improve with experience, and his impressive performance in the ALDS showed his ability to pitch in a big game. But isn’t there a chance Buchholz simply won’t live up to the hype?

Prospects rarely perform how they’re expected to—especially pitchers. As a Clevelander, I can immediately name Jaret Wright, Jeremy Sowers, and Fausto Carmona as perfect examples of young hurlers who tantalized us with flashes of their abilities before quickly fizzling out.

Buchholz is more talented than any of those failed prospects, but that doesn’t mean the steak is as big as the sizzle.

It’s at least understandable that the Red Sox wouldn’t want to trade Buchholz for a year-and-a-half of Lee or Halladay, or less than three seasons of Gonzalez. But that excuse is inapplicable to Cabrera, who is locked up through 2015.

Buchholz’ rotation spot wouldn’t be too difficult to fill. If Michael Bowden isn’t ready by opening day, there are plenty of low-risk, high-reward free agents (Justin Duchscherer and Ben Sheets, for example) who would probably work out better than John Smoltz did.

If the Red Sox have a chance to get one of the best hitters in the game from the beginning of his prime until he’s 32, would anyone object to parting ways with a replaceable prospect who has yet to demonstrate consistency in the majors?

Sorry, Clay, your time in Boston is up.