Nick Cafardo has a report on Clay Buchholz today, noting that there are teams interested in the Red Sox right hander, and that the Pirates are one of them. Cafardo said that the Pirates recently had a scout watching Buchholz, and that they need a pitcher. They could improve on their fifth starting spot over Jeff Locke, but the fact that they’re looking at a pitcher doesn’t guarantee anything. Last year they looked at a lot of pitchers, and even made some offers at the deadline, but were shut out from adding a starter. Part of this was due to teams looking for MLB-talent while they were offering prospects.
With that disclaimer out of the way, Buchholz would make sense for the Pirates. He has been a very inconsistent pitcher over the last few years. At his best, he looks like a three win pitcher. At his worst, he’s worth barely a win. This year he is having a career year, so that might impact his value a bit, if teams believe that this is the pitcher they’ll get going forward. The thing about the Pirates is that they have a good track record of getting the best version of a pitcher, so it’s possible they’d have success keeping Buchholz consistent.
But what would Buchholz be worth in a trade with those inconsistent performances? He’s making $12 M this year, so he’d have about $6 M remaining if dealt on July 1st. From there he has $13 M and $13.5 M options respectively the next two years. Those are both very affordable for the Pirates if Buchholz pitches to his best. That’s what they are currently paying Francisco Liriano. They’ll also see A.J. Burnett leaving next year, which means they’re shedding $8.5 M from the rotation, and needing a replacement.
There are a few scenarios here. First would be the best case scenario for the Red Sox — someone buys in to his current success and pays for the best version of him the last few years, which would be a three win pitcher. At $6 M per win, that would give Buchholz a trade value of $13.1 M, plus a little extra if you think he could get a draft pick at the end of the process. That would be worth a top 51-100 ranked hitting prospect, plus a Grade C pitcher. Or maybe two top 51-100/Grade B pitching prospects.
If Buchholz was valued at the mid-point of his production the last few years, then you’re likely looking at a very low value. At two wins per year, his option years wouldn’t be worth picking up, which means he’d be worth about a Grade C pitcher. I can’t see him getting that value on this market, especially with how he has pitched this year. I could see teams paying for this year, but not giving much for the option years due to the uncertainty. Basically it would make him the equivalent of a one-year rental, meaning he’d be worth about a Grade B hitter or a top 51-100 pitcher.
The range for Buchholz would be one Grade B hitter/top 51-100 pitcher on the low end, to a pair of those players, or a top 51-100 hitter and a Grade C pitcher on the high end. And with not many sellers on the market, and Buchholz pitching well, I could see this being closer to the high end.
I don’t think this would be a bad risk to take for the Pirates, especially with their track record of having success with pitchers like Buchholz (good strikeout rate, high ground ball rate). Buchholz might cost a decent return, but he doesn’t look like a guy who would cost someone like Tyler Glasnow or Josh Bell. The Pirates could deal one or two of their other top prospects, sending out guys that have value but they wouldn’t miss in the short or long term. It would be a gamble, based on the inconsistent history. But it would ultimately be just a more expensive gamble of the risk the Pirates have taken on guys like Liriano, Burnett, and others in the past.
Of course, there’s no guarantee the Red Sox deal him, as Cafardo notes. So all of this interest might be for nothing.