Ever since the news exploded onto the scene that the Red Sox were highly interested in acquiring Mark Buerhle, the fervor has been tempered somewhat. Immediately after the Chicago Sun-Times ran that explosive piece that all but assured a deal was imminent, the Boston Herald has been on top of that story. The first report from the Herald noted that “baseball sources” have confirmed interest in Buehrle from the Red Sox.
However, the same piece also noted that the Red Sox weren’t desperate for Buehrle and could afford to be patient. Then, of course, news of the New York Yankees being interested came to light, with the White Sox asking for either Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy or Joba Chamberlain. Those talks went nowhere, as the Yankees immediately said “well, nice talking to you.”
Now, the Red Sox are out of the running.
I don’t believe that for a second, but let’s humor the Herald and the Sox for a minute.
The White Sox are looking for some premium prospects in exchange for Buehrle. The two that the Pale Hose have their eye on are Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. That is quite simply not going to happen, and I have no doubt that Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has communicated as such to Kenny Williams, the man at the helm of the White Sox. (It’s so weird to have to type out Red Sox and catch myself from referring to the White Sox as simply ‘Sox.’)
Another reason that this deal is on the rocks is that the White Sox will not allow another team a negotiating window with Buehrle for talks on a contract extension. This is reasonable, as the White Sox are afraid (and rightly so) that Buehrle is interested only in pitching for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals after the season (nevermind that Buehrle told the White Sox that he would allow them to match the top offer for his services). While the White Sox have a reason to be afraid, Buerhle is going to chase the money. This is his big payday. He can pitch for the Cardinals when he’s 41 years old and about to retire. He’s not going to take $50 million from the Cardinals when he could get $75 million elsewhere.
I don’t think that this deal is on the rocks at all. I think that this is some spin coming out of the Red Sox office. The Red Sox are very private about their transaction matters, and they attempt to let absolutely no rumors or speculation about their team hit the media. (The Red Sox brass were reportedly quite angry that the Rockies leaked [heck, it was more than a leak] talks with the Red Sox about Todd Helton.)
The Red Sox have too many of the right pieces to let this deal completely die. The Red Sox have their third best prosect, Michael Bowden, to offer up. Bowden is 20 years old and pitching in Double-A Portland. He was promoted from High-A Lancaster, where pitchers go to die, after posting a spectacular 1.37 ERA there in eight starts. So far in Portland, he has a 4.11 ERA in seven starts. According to Sox Prospects, Bowden has “is an advanced pitcher for his age. He has an arsenal of four MLB caliber pitches: a low-90s four-seam fastball which tops out around 95, a 12-6 hard breaking curve, a tight slider, and a plus circle changeup.” He draws comparisons to Ben Sheets and has an unorthodox pitching delivery that has been reportedly studied by doctors at Dr. James Andrews’ American Sports Medicine Institute and he has come up mechanically clean.
I don’t care if Clay Buchholz compares to Chris Carpenter, being compared to Ben Sheets at age-20 is nothing to sneeze at. That is a very good pitching prospect we could send Chicago. Now, to fill out the trade. The White Sox have also displayed interest in two hitting prospects: outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and infielder Jed Lowrie. Ellsbury, currently holding his own at Triple-A Pawtucket, is reportedly untouchable (and for good reason). Jed Lowrie, an infielder at Portland, is not. Lowrie is shaky with the glove at shortstop, but can hit. He is currently at .305/.416/.485 and has been scorching the ball as of late. The White Sox could use some more infield prospects, and we have Julio Lugo locked up for three and a half (I know, I know) years. Lowrie is expendable.
We have the main pieces now: Bowden and Lowrie. We could also trade them a high-impact outfield bat. The idea here is that the White Sox are interested in an outfield bat. And for good reason: Jermaine Dye is falling apart, Darin Erstad is doing what he does best (get hurt and not get on base), and Scott Podsednik keeps getting hurt. We could offer the White Sox right-fielder Brandon Moss, who has turned himself from a possible backup outfield to legitimate starting outfielder with his burning up Pawtucket. The 23-year old is mashing at a .295/.388/.535 pace in Triple-A and has 13 HR, 25 doubles and one triple. If the White Sox aren’t interested in Moss or want someone a bit more higher-ceiling … what about Wily Mo Pena? He would fit Comiskey — oops, I mean U.S. Cellular Field — like a dream. Put him in left-field and let him launch his moonshots in the biggest launching pad of them all.
Bowden, Lowrie and Pena can definitely get the discussion started, perhaps even end. If the White Sox continue to hold out, I wouldn’t blink at a Craig Hansen, David Pauley, Kason Gabbard, et. al type being slotted into that trade — all without needing to talk to Buehrle about a contract extension.
Sure, trading prospects stinks. But as Remember Roger LaFrancois? (no, I don’t), a commenter, said: “Proven beats prospect – and this guy has a ring as well!”
Mark Buerhle is 28-years old, he is one of the quickest workers in the game, and he’s a pitch to contact pitcher, something that Dennis Eckersley deplores. Hey, if you can be a pitch-to-contact hitter and throw a no-hitter, aren’t you doing something right? He’s currently sporting a 3.39 ERA on the year, a 1.05 WHIP, and has struck out 60 (walking 17) in 93 innings. In his career, He has a 101-70 record and a 3.80 ERA. Two years ago, in 2005, his ERA was 3.12 over the course of the entire season. Last year, for some reason, he was awful — he finished with an ERA of 4.99, and there was a lot of talk at the trading deadline of the Sox acquiring Buehrle for centerfielder Coco Crisp.
Obviously, the price tag is a lot higher now that Buerhle has returned to form (but that’s not to slight Coco Crisp, hitting .321/.353/.444 in June) … but there’s no reason not to pursue this. People are asking where Buehrle would slot into the rotation. Well, Julian Tavarez is and always will be a reliever. I think the game two nights ago in Seattle reminded people of this. When you have someone such as Mark Buehrle dangling in front of you, the pitching form of Julian Tavarez becomes irrelevant. Not to mention the inconsistency of Tim Wakefield and the growing realization by all that Curt Schilling will depart Boston (going to Philadelphia; heard it here first) … look, I love Jon Lester to death, but I am perfectly fine keeping him in Triple-A all year (did we forget that injuries tend to occur, by the way?) if it means Mark Buehrle slots in the rotation. Next year, Schilling leaves and Lester takes it over.
Figuring out who goes into the rotation because there are too many good options is a good thing. I want to make it a near impossibility to make it an easy decision. Acquiring Buerhle factors into that. As much as I hate to say this, because I’ve become a fan … it also opens up a trade for Kason Gabbard.
I think a lot of people are scared off by Buehrle’s 4.99 ERA last year, but come on. Over his career, last year is the wild aberration. As much as he pitches to contact, he whiffed 165 batters in 245.1 IP (please look closely at that again: Two hundred forty five point one innings) in 2004. That is his career high in innings, and he has pitched over 200 innings every year in baseball except this year (for obvious reasons: it’s June) and his first year, when he made three starts and 25 relief appearances in 2000. The last time someone on the Red Sox pitched that many innings in a season (245.1) was in 1996, when Roger Clemens hurled 242.2 innings.
From 2006 down to 1994, the only people to get over the 220 inning barrier were Tim Wakefield (2005), Curt Schilling (2004) and Pedro Martinez (1998). I stopped looking after 1994, but no one reached 220 innings (let alone even 200!) in 1995 or 1994. Mark Buerhle has done it six out of seven full years of starting.
Basically, getting Buehrle gives us someone who is a lefty, works quickly, has tremendous durability, and get this: has a low ERA and low WHIP.
And he’s 28.
What, in god’s name, is there not to like? The mileage on his arm? Gee, he seems to be doing just fine. He has yet to experience a DL stint. In his career, he has a 3.49 ERA at Fenway Park (with a small sample size of four starts, but is 3-1 in those starts). His only negative is that he is 1-5 in his career against the Yankees in seven starts, getting knocked to death with a 6.58 ERA. Heck, even seven starts is a small sample size. The Minnesota Twins have seen him 31 times (29 starts) and he has a 3.76 ERA. The Indians? 26 games, 25 starts, 4.61 ERA. The Royals? 32 games, 30 starts, 3.35 ERA. The Tigers? 21 games, 20 starts, 2.92 ERA.
Looking at his game by game log, he has absolutely dominated the teams who aren’t exactly good (Rangers, Pirates, Cubs, Astros, Blue Jays) and only gotten rocked once (Six innings against the Yankees, and I don’t count his 1.1 IP start against the Indians, where he gave up only one run.)
The question here is if Buerhle gets away with most of his pitching due to pitching against terrible teams: the Royals now, the Tigers back then, the Twins waaaaay back then … but isn’t that true of every pitcher? Every pitcher should beat up on the bad teams, no matter what. His career ERA of 3.70 says he beats up good teams pretty often, too.
Buehrle is probably not headed to the Red Sox. If he is, however, I certainly won’t be complaining.