Mark Buehrle trade rumor

Forgive the previous post, I wrote it too late at night to know what I was talking about. Here we go with take two…

Chicago White Sox starter Mark Buehrle is going to be traded, and the Red Sox have been named as a big player for him. GM Kenny Williams hasn’t been able to sign him to an extension, mainly because their team policy is no pitchers’ contracts over three years long. Buehrle is looking for something in the neighborhood of a 5-year, $70 million deal. The White Sox policy is probably a smart thing, given how injury-prone pitchers are, and how quickly they can decline. However, if Buehrle was a top-shelf pitcher, you can bet the White Sox would have made an exception for him. So that tells you something.

Buehrle features a low-90s fastball, a very good changeup and a cut fastball. He is a medium-sized pitcher who throws strikes. That can work against him at times, but when he can get ahead of hitters, he’s usually very good. He doesn’t make stupid mistakes, but he is very hittable. He’s an above-average fielder with a very good pickoff move to first base, making him hard to run on.

Williams has stated that Chicago will not provide a 72-hour negotiation window for Buehrle, which means that you are only guaranteed to have him until his contract runs out at the end of the season (a so-called “rental”). It is up to the trading partner to extend him after the trade, if they choose. Realistically, this brings down the price, but makes him a gamble for anyone lacking the budget to sign him long-term.

Williams has named Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Bowden and Jed Lowrie as interesting prospects. I would be shocked to see the Red Sox trade Buchholz or Ellsbury at this point, as they have given every indication that they will be able to make it at this level. But it might be worth considering the other two.

Buerhle is an established left-handed pitcher with just over seven years of experience. He’s 101-70 in his career and owns a 3.80 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He’s a former 19-game winner (in 2002), and has averaged 15.5 wins in the past six seasons, even before the White Sox contended and won the title in 2005. He’s as reliable as they get, in that he’s pitched well over 200 innings every year since 2001, averaging 33.5 starts per season, a real innings eater. Scouts agree that his track record and throwing motion make him likely to remain very durable for many more years.

Despite his accomplishments, he’s just 28 years old and his peripheral stats seem to be just fine. His trends at show nothing too objectionable, unlike the last left-handed veteran we looked into. His career numbers are actually pretty similar to Barry Zito’s at this point. However, Buehrle’s control seems to be getting better, and he’s allowing fewer and fewer line drives. I think he can continue to pitch close to his career stats for at least 3-4 more years, barring the unexpected.

What can Mark Buehrle bring to the Red Sox? For starters, he would slide into the rotation ahead of Tim Wakefield and move Julian Tavarez to the bullpen. He would finally provide a reliable left-handed starter to our rotation. So our front five would be Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Buehrle and Wakefield. Can you imagine facing a rotation like this in a seven game series? His coming here would also prevent the Yankees from signing him, although I think we need to do what’s right for the team, not act with the desperate Yanks in mind.

As with any trade or signing, it’s great to get a good player. But it has to be worth the transaction cost. Buehrle had the worst season of his career last year, finishing 12-13 with a 4.99 ERA. He is a hittable pitcher (lifetime .266 batting average against) who gives up a lot of fly balls and home runs. In a park like Fenway, that could spell trouble. Dennis Eckersley has gone on the record saying that Buehrle is “scary” because he’s so hittable. Also, Buehrle has always dreamed of playing for the Cardinals, so if he reaches free agency, there’s a good chance he’d go there.

The Red Sox have at least three spots in their 2008 rotation set already, with Beckett, Matsuzaka and presumably Jon Lester. There’s a good chance that Schilling and Wakefield could return as well, complicating matters. Then there’s Clay Buchholz, Devern Hansack, Kason Gabbard and David Pauley all getting older and knocking loudly at the door. And don’t forget Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard and Justin Masterson behind them. Where will all of these pitchers fit in? Looking at past statistics, probably two out of all these guys will pan out to be above-average or star material. The question is, do you want to wait and sift through these guys, or do you want a pretty good pitcher now?

I don’t think this trade would be the right fit for us. Definitely, there are a lot of other teams that need Buehrle more than we do, so I’d be surprised if that didn’t inflate the price too much. I think it’s good for Theo to explore options like this, but my guess is that we won’t pull the trigger again. IMHO, he’s just not good enough for us to take this kind of risk. Some see Kason Gabbard as comparable to Buehrle, which makes me wonder if Gabbard’s Tuesday start might not be a showcase start as part of a trade.

It also doesn’t make sense to tie ourselves into Buehrle with so many quality arms so close to the majors. Even though he could help our rotation now, and for the next few years, it would create too much of a logjam in our rotation with Schilling and Wakefield still sticking around.


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