The Phillies made another buy-low trade on Tuesday, acquiring right-handed starting pitcher Clay Buchholz from the Red Sox in exchange for minor-league 2B Josh Tobias.
Buchholz, 32, spent 10 seasons with Boston and made the AL All-Star team in 2010 and 2013. He's had some dominant years — 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in '10; 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in an injury-shortened '13 — but he's never been the same pitcher from one season to the next.
Buchholz makes $13.5 million in 2017, the final season of his contract.
"Clay had a very productive tenure with the Red Sox, and we look forward to seeing what he can do in a Phillies uniform," GM Matt Klentak said in a statement. "He is a welcome addition to our young starting rotation."
To make room on the 40-man roster for Buchholz, the Phillies designated third baseman Richie Shaffer for assignment.
The Buchholz trade is similar to last year's acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson. Both were once highly-touted young right-handers, both started their careers fast and both experienced growing pains.
As with Hellickson, the Phillies are buying low on Buchholz. He went 8-10 with a 4.78 ERA last season, pitching some of his games in relief for the first time since 2008. The Red Sox's rotation was crowded even before Chris Sale arrived and Buchholz was the odd man out. Buchholz did finish strong though, allowing just three runs in 19 innings in his last three starts.
It's hard to imagine the Phillies paying Buchholz $13.5 million to do anything but start, so their projected rotation (barring injury) would include Hellickson, Buchholz, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. Aaron Nola is coming off an elbow injury and will have to show he's healthy enough to crack the opening day staff. Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are also candidates.
The Phillies are gambling that the Buchholz they'll get is closer to the 2015 version. Just two seasons ago, he had a 3.26 ERA with 107 strikeouts and 23 walks in 113 1/3 innings before his year was cut short by an elbow injury.
Injuries have been common throughout Buchholz's career. In an eight-season span from 2008-15, he made seven trips to the disabled list for a right fingernail tear, a left hamstring strain, a stress fracture in his lower back, esophagitis, right shoulder bursits, a left knee hyperextension and the aforementioned elbow injury.
Buchholz's fastball has averaged about 92 mph since 2012, two ticks below where he was in 2010, his best year. He's changed his approach through the years to incorporate more cutters and fewer fastballs.
At his peak, Buchholz generated ground balls at better than a 50 percent rate. But his ground ball rate last season was just 41.2 percent, nearly seven percent below his career average.
With the Phils, Buchholz will get a chance to reestablish his value, a la Hellickson, as he heads into free agency. If he pitches well, perhaps he sticks.
If he fails, all it'll cost the Phillies is money they had available to spend and a minor leaguer at a position of depth.
Tobias was the Phillies' 10th-round pick in 2015 out of the University of Florida. He's hit .301 with an .801 OPS in two minor-league seasons, but his batting average dropped by 50 points as he made the jump from Single A Lakewood to High A Clearwater.
The Phillies are not hurting for middle infielders. They have Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis at the major-league level, top prospect J.P. Crawford at Triple A, and second basemen Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin rising through their system.