CLEARWATER, Fla. – It’s not easy leaving a team that is loaded for World Series bear for a rebuilding club that would consider a .500 season to be a fist-pumping success.
That’s what has happened to Clay Buchholz.
One day this winter he was part of a Boston Red Sox club that probably became the team to beat in the American League when it acquired stud lefty Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox in a December trade. Two weeks later, Buchholz was traded to the Phillies.
Truth be told, the righty didn’t expect to be part of the Red Sox’s World Series push in 2017.
He had a feeling he’d be traded this winter.
“I thought the [Sale deal] would have been the trade I would be a part of,” he said before his first workout with the Phillies on Tuesday.
Buchholz, 32, spent 10 seasons in Boston. He threw a no-hitter in his second big-league start, made two All-Star teams and won a World Series ring in 2013. He battled inconsistency in recent seasons and teetered in and out of Boston’s rotation in 2016. The Sox picked up the $13.5 million option on his contract after last season with the idea that some team might roll the dice that he would be a good bounce-back candidate in his free-agent walk year. The Phillies under general manager Matt Klentak have been willing to gamble on these types of players. The Phils sent minor-league second baseman Josh Tobias, a second-tier prospect, to Boston, assumed all of Buchholz’s salary and the deal was struck.
As much as the Phillies would like to shock the world and become a contender in 2017, they remain a rebuilding team on the prowl for young talent. Deep down inside, Phillies officials are probably hoping that Buchholz will give them four strong months, allowing for a little extra seasoning of their top starting pitching prospects, then bring some young talent in a trade.
Buchholz shrugged when asked about that possibility.
“I've been in trade rumors since 2005 when I got drafted,” he said. “I can't do anything with them regardless if I think about them or don't think about them. All I can do is go out and pitch and prepare and try to stay healthy throughout the season.”
In Philadelphia, Buchholz will work under pitching coach Bob McClure. The two have a familiarity dating to McClure’s time with Boston.
Last season, McClure helped Jake Thompson rebound from a rocky debut and have success by shortening and simplifying his delivery to the point where it was almost a modified stretch. Thompson is going to continue to use it this season.
Buchholz made a similar adjustment with Boston last season and it helped him get back in the rotation in September. He made five starts in the month and went at least six innings without giving up more than two runs in four of them.
“I eliminated a lot of movement I felt I didn't need and I could concentrate on throwing the pitch and throwing it well rather than [thinking about] mechanical flaws or trying to do something a little bit different within the windup,” Buchholz said of the adjustment to his delivery. “I'm coming into camp right now thinking I'm going to stay in the stretch. It worked out good for me.”
Wearing Phillies red before Tuesday morning’s workout, Buchholz said he was ready for a new chapter in his baseball life.
“I think everybody nowadays knows that one player doesn’t stay with one team his whole career,” he said. “There are a select few guys that have done that over their career — I was playing on the same team with one of them, Dustin Pedroia. He’s been a staple there forever.
“But I think a change of scenery for me, just to get somewhere else and meet some new guys and play for a different uniform, a different organization … The Red Sox, they gave me a lot, gave me the opportunity. But this is a new chapter, and I look forward to going on the field with these guys here.
“I think it energizes anybody. There are expectations that are brought back to you. That sense of complacency, being in one spot for an extended period of time, that’s gone. And, yeah, you want to perform for the new faces and show that you’re still good at your craft and good at what you do. I’m coming in here and hoping to definitely impress and help this team win some baseball games."
But there probably won’t be a trip to the postseason in 2017, not with the rebuilding Phillies at least.
“I look at it as an opportunity to prove people wrong,” Buchholz said.