In 2018 Clay Buchholz showed that he’s still a pitcher that can deliver when healthy. Should the Texas Rangers take a risk and acquire the veteran starter?
Clay Buchholz isn’t the most sought after free agent in baseball, but he’s one of the most intriguing, particularly for a team in need of pitching like the Texas Rangers.
There was a period early in Buchholz’s career where he seemed like a player destined for stardom; he threw a no-hitter during his rookie season, and his ERA+ of 187 in 2010 was the best in baseball. By all indications, it looked like Buchholz would be a staple of the Red Sox rotation for years to come.
Then, as has happened to many other great pitchers, his career was derailed by injuries. Constant stints on the disabled list made it tough for Buchholz to progress, and it was tough for teams to rely on him for consistent innings.
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By 2018 Buchholz’s future as a major league starter was on thin ice. He signed a minor league deal with the Royals to begin the season but opted out in May after finding out that they planned to keep him in the minors for an extended period.
He was then scooped up by the Diamondbacks, who took a chance and threw him into their starting rotation.
The results were shockingly good; Buccholz finished the year with a 2.01 ERA and 1.037 WHIP over 98.1 innings pitched, and outside of a short DL stint with a strained oblique he looked healthy. Most importantly there were no real signs of the shoulder problem that has plagued him in the past.
With all of this said there’s no guarantee that Buccholz is healthy again; he’ll be 34 next year and durability isn’t something that improves better with age, but he should still draw interest from teams as a low-cost rotation option with a potentially high ceiling.
One team that he’s reportedly piqued the interested of is the Texas Rangers:
If signed Buchholz would be joining a Rangers squad that hasn’t quite made their identity clear.
This offseason the team has made some moves, like trading Jurickson Profar for a haul of prospects, that suggests they’re planning a long term rebuild. This gels with them having moved Cole Hamels during the regular season, and is also a strategy that would make sense for a team with some talented young players coming off of a 67-95 season.
Some of their winter free agent signings muddy things up a bit. In December the team signed veteran right-hander Lance Lynn to a three-year deal, and just this past week they signed Asdrubal Cabrera for one-year.
Cabrera makes a bit more sense than Lynn; he’ll only be around for one year, and he can help the Rangers young core develop for the future. Still, he’ll potentially be taking reps away from young players, and it wouldn’t be totally surprising to see him moved at the deadline to a borderline contending team.
Lynn is a bit more puzzling. His numbers last year were not great, and he can only really be counted on to eat innings. He’s slated to make less than $10 million this year, meaning he also could be a trade candidate down the line, but it seems like the Rangers might have been better off looking for a pitcher to develop into and through their contention window.
Which brings us back to Buchholz, who will be 34 next season. The rotation he’d be joining wouldn’t be a young one, and if the Rangers are in rebuild mode Texas certainly won’t be a long term location for him.
On the Rangers side of things with this role in mind Buchholz is a great fit. He can likely be had for a short term deal in sub $2 million range, and if things don’t go well with him next season there’s not much to lose.
If things do go well he can either help the team sell some tickets, and he becomes another deadline trade candidate that can be moved to a contending team for more prospects or young major league players. Either way, the Rangers win.
Whether or not this would work for Buchholz isn’t clear.
If he views this year as one he can use to further reestablish himself as a starter you can count on a short term contract might be ideal. It would allow him to elevate his value in the eyes of executives, and if all goes well he could go out and get even more money in free agency next year.
On the other hand, if Buchholz is looking for some security, which would make sense due to the roller coaster nature of his career, the Rangers might not be the team for him.
As a veteran on a rebuilding team, Buchholz’s spot on the roster would be anything but secure, and the Rangers would likely want to give him a tradeable contract. To be fair it’s not really in their best interest to give him a long term deal, so if that’s Buchholz’s desire talks between him and the Rangers probably won’t develop further.
So, in short, there’s no real downside to signing Buchholz (especially if you’re not in the middle of your contention window), and if the Rangers can get him they should. He’s an interesting player with major potential upside, and his low price makes him worth any risk.
If he wants a long term deal the Texas Rangers should look elsewhere (perhaps James Shields?) for a budget rotation starter.