Phillies Trade for Red Sox Pitcher Clay Buchholz

The Phils acquired the two-time All-Star for a low-level prospect. Though he has disappointed in recent years, midseason adjustments may have fixed his issues.

Clay Buchholz pitching for the Red Sox

Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies made a move today, trading a low-level prospect for two-time All-Star pitcher Clay Buchholz.

Second baseman Josh Tobias was sent to the Red Sox to complete the deal. Without a big payroll for 2017, the Phillies essentially bought Buchholz and his $13 million contract from the Sox for a lottery ticket.

Buchholz was an All Star as a starting pitcher with the Sox in 2010 and 2013; he also threw a no-hitter in just his second-ever start and won the World Series with the team in ’13. But he’s struggled in recent years. While he started the 2013 season on fire, he missed most of the year with a shoulder injury. The next season, after re-aggravating the injury in the playoffs, his ERA ballooned to 5.34.

After a so-so year in 2014, he struggled again last season and was moved to the bullpen. He had a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts before being shuttled to the bullpen; he eventually finished the season back in the starting rotation. He finished the year with a 4.78 ERA and a losing record.

But there is reason to hope. As Inquirer Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb notes, Buchholz made a major mid-season adjustment that seems to have turned his fortunes around. “With the assistance of director of pitching development Brian Bannister, Buchholz realized in July that his arm-slot had lowered dramatically since his career year in 2013, likely due to the injuries he’s sustained since then,” the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton wrote in August. “The lower arm-slot meant pitches that used to break down were now moving more horizontally, and they were getting hit much harder.”

You might be discouraged and point to an article from March 2016 that said Buchholz had made offseason adjustments that allowed him to return to his old form. But the stats from 2016 seem to point to the midseason change actually making a difference. In the first half of the season, Buchholz had a 5.91 ERA. In the second half, that dropped to 3.22 ERA. He also struck out nearly one more batter per nine innings.

The Phillies’ likely plan for Buchholz is pretty simple: Put him in the starting rotation, and if he works out they can at least trade him before the deadline in-season. (Or, even better, if he plays well, maybe the Phillies will be in playoff contention at the trade deadline!) If he doesn’t work out, he’s only signed through this season and the Phillies have no further commitment to him.

It’s all part of the Phillies’ plan to return to contention. You never know: Maybe 2017 is the year they get good again. Maybe.