There’s a new name to add to the list of targets for the Oakland A’s rotation. The team has “engaged in discussions” with free agent pitcher Clay Buchholz, reports Ben Ross of NBCS, though he notes that “nothing appears to be imminent.”
It’s easy to see why the A’s are interested in Buchholz. He fits many criteria that the club often targets, with a high ceiling but also major flaws that will drag him down into the A’s price range.
The right-hander was once one of the best young arms in the game for the Red Sox, but a relentless barrage of injuries shredded his career and continues to do so. Since 2008, he has landed on the disabled list in nine of the last 11 seasons (and five times on the 60-day), for everything from a back stress fracture, to a torn meniscus, to shoulder bursitis, to esophagitis, to a torn fingernail, to a strained hammy. Most recently, the flexor tendon in his forearm has become a recurring issue — he missed the second half of 2015 with a strain, then tore it and missed all of 2017 to surgery, and then had it flare up again last September, though the UCL in his elbow has remained fine so far.
When healthy, though, Buchholz has often shown flashes of brilliance. He threw a no-hitter in his second-ever MLB start back in 2007 at age 22, and he managed to make two All-Star teams in 2010 and ‘13. In that latter year, he carried a sub-2.00 ERA through 16 starts before the bursitis got him, though he returned in time to pitch in the postseason and win a ring with Boston. Last season with Arizona, at age 33 and with his velocity down several ticks to barely more than 90 mph on average, he posted a brilliant partial-season that can best be described as “Trevor Cahill’s home splits.” (He was interrupted for a month in the middle due to an oblique strain, because of course.)
Buchholz, 2018: 2.01 ERA, 98⅓ ip, 81 Ks, 22 BB, 9 HR, 3.47 FIP
That’s more or less the upside here. He’s never thrown 200 innings and there’s no reason to expect him to begin now at age 34+, but he’s capable of dominating for stretches when he manages to get on the mound. He can still go deep into games, too, as 10 of his 16 starts last summer were at least six full innings, five were at least seven frames, and once he tossed a complete game five-hitter. However, that’s more due to his efficiency than durability, as only twice did he exceed 100 pitches (and nine times over 90).
Meanwhile, the cost figures to be barely more than a flyer. MLB Trade Rumors ranked their Top 50 free agents and took it down as low as guys who could command 1yr/$6M. Buchholz didn’t even make that cut, which implies that he’s due for an even smaller deal, and certainly just for one guaranteed season.
Put it all together, and here’s what you’ve got, in A’s terms. Buchholz has the upside of Coliseum Cahill regardless of venue, but he has the injury risk of Brett Anderson, all for Edwin Jackson money.
Is that enough to warrant a spot on Oakland’s tight payroll? Or should they be targeting starters with more reliable health, even if it means losing some upside? Does the potential midseason return of several other injured hurlers offset the risk that Buchholz might not last long enough to be available in the postseason? Vote in the poll!
Should the A’s gamble on Clay Buchholz?
This poll is closed
Yes. The upside is worth it on a one-year deal.
No. Save money for more guaranteed innings.