The knee-jerk, hot-off-the-press answer, in my opinion, would be yes. Before anyone gets too angry, take a minute and think.
Obviously, people want to remember the second-MLB start no-hitter, or the 2013 streak of best pitcher in the world. But I really don’t think that’s the real Buchholz. We are, to be frank, talking about a guy who has never started 30 games in a season, never broken 200 innings pitched, and has posted a WAR above 2.o exactly twice.
For comparisons sake, former rotation-mate, Jon Lester has started 30+ games in six of nine season, broken 200 innings five times and posted a WAR of 3.o or higher six times as well. The Red Sox have essentially asked Buchholz to step in and fill Lester’s shoes, in much the same way that Lester had to fill Josh Beckett‘s place in 2012. Except now, they’ve placed the weight of the entire rotation on an inferior pitcher’s shoulders.
I’m not necessarily saying Buchholz should be cut, traded or demoted, but I think that we, as fans, need to curb our expectations. Sure he picked up a quality start last night against the Angels, but it was hardly a dominant effort. And don’t even get me started on the billions of walks Buchholz has handed out over his last couple of starts. It’s clear that Buchholz is probably never going to turn into that guy who went 11-0/12-1 with a minuscule ERA last season.
That said, he’s still a serviceable option to start every fifth day. With the exception of this season, Buchholz has an ERA+ within 10 point of league average (100) in every year but 2008. That’s a mid-to-back-end of the rotation starter, and a relatively decent one at that. He is also relatively affordable, signed through 2015 at $12MM with two consecutive team options for $13MM and $13.5MM. In a world where Clayton Kershaw is getting $31MM a year, I’d be happy to pay less than half that to a pitcher with as much potential as Buchholz has.
At the same time, it also make Buchholz a potentially attractive trade chip, should the front office decide to fully commit to a youth movement. Any number of the bunches of pitching prospects offer what Buchholz is giving at present, and so it might be easier to plug either a Henry Owens or Allen Webster in Buchholz’s stead and either trade him or let him walk after 2015.
Obviously, showing Buchholz the door, one way or another, essentially leaves you with a veteran-less rotation, unless you count Joe Kelly, which I don’t. I’m not saying Kelly isn’t good, but he isn’t a veteran presence to fill that leadership role at the front of the rotation.
It’s not yet time to fully give up on Buchholz in the sense that he needs to leave Boston. But it is time to abandon the hope that he’s going to be a perennial Cy Young award candidate. He’s a perfect option to slot into an incredibly young rotation that has plenty of other options to fill in for the oft-injured righty. Then, come 2016, should Webster, Kelly, Owens et al show that they’re ready for the big time, perhaps we cut ties with Buch, and pave the way for something closer to an ace.