4-11-2011: Buchholz signs a 4-year extension

The Red Sox announced a contract extension yesterday, but not for the player you might have expected. Young Clay Buchholz has signed a 4-year deal worth a reported $29.945M which buys out his arbitration years and one year of free agency. The deal is pretty similar to the extension they signed with Jon Lester last season, though for one less guaranteed year. Boston will also hold two club options on Buchholz for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The year-by-year breakdown is given by The Full Count Blog here:

Signing bonus: $1M
2012: $3.5M
2013: $5.5M
2014: $7.7M
2015: $12M

2016 option: $13M with a $245k buyout
2017 option: $13.5M with a $500k buyout

There are some standard bonus clauses for Cy Young finishes.

I wouldn’t worry about Buchholz’ slow start to 2011 (not yet, anyway). His 7.20 ERA is inflated by an incredible 31.3% HR/FB rate, which is roughly three times his career average, and about six times higher than what he did last season. I think after he works through some early season stuff and gets comfortable working with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, we will see some solid pitching out of him.

Good contract or bad?

It has become something of Theo Epstein’s modus operandi to wait for a young starter to get off to a bad start, then lock him up to a discounted contract (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester signed in a similar fashion).

Our projections don’t like Buchholz as quite an ace, but he is likely to become anything from a #2 starter to a solid #4 starter. The contract valuation of him as something like a $12-13M/year free agent reflects that. He’s had some very good success, but needs to show it consistently. He has developed himself into more of a pitch-to-contact groundball guy, rather than the strikeout guy of the past, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for his longevity. And don’t forget that the stuff is still there, so if he needs a strikeout in a pressure situation, he still has the ability to reach back and try for one. Mike Podhorzer noted recently that while Buch’s K/9 rate may not be so hot lately, he still generates a very healthy amount of swings and misses. And that’s a very good thing.

Here’s what Buchholz might look like over the next several seasons, according to our correlation aging rates method:

2011 26 166.2 156 17 70 127 5 1.36 4.23
2012 27 171.5 161 18 71 131 5 1.35 4.20
2013 28 174.9 165 18 71 133 5 1.35 4.19
2014 29 176.4 167 18 72 134 5 1.35 4.21
2015 30 175.9 168 19 72 133 5 1.36 4.26
2016 31 173.4 168 19 71 130 5 1.38 4.33
2017 32 169.1 166 19 71 125 5 1.40 4.42

Yeah, I know that these figures are not overwhelming, but it’s a conservative estimate of his talent, based on what Buchholz has done in the past. You can still see there’s upside, with his peak likely coming around age 28. You gotta remember how tough it is to pitch in the AL East.

So is this a good contract? In the sense of, is it a steal? I’d say probably not. Considering that Buchholz is now 26 and it means we have him for his “prime” seasons, it seems like a pretty fair and pretty safe deal for both parties with a lot of potential upside if Buchholz proves he can reproduce what he did in 2010. And in case Buchholz doesn’t turn out to be the pitcher we thought? I’d say that his contract is still possible to trade. That’s just what you want to shoot for as a GM when dealing with your own players, and Epstein has done that to perfection here.


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