Nobody really expected Clay Buchholz to set the world on fire after being acquired from the Red Sox over the Winter. Still, a 6.65 ERA in six Spring Training starts is troublesome to say the least. If it were Cole Hamels, you wouldn't worry. Clayton Kershaw, no problem. Clay Buchholz? Problem.
The Phillies are all about youth these days. They come into the season with the second youngest roster in baseball and that's only because of players like Joaquin Benoit (39), Daniel Nava (34), Howie Kendrick (33) and Buchholz (32). They would have no problem putting younger players into bigger roles if the need arises, especially when it comes to starting pitchers.
In a perfect world, everybody listed, plus a few other guys, will have a big first half of the season and teams will be interested in sending more prospects to the Phillies to get one or two of those players who will put them over the top. Then, the Phillies move up some of their talented youngsters and let them start their major league careers. Of course, things don't always turn out how teams plan and to figure on everything going perfectly, is just a dream world. The realistic hope is that one or two veteran players play well and you might be able to make a move or two.
In the case of Buchholz, the Phillies are paying him $13.5-million this season after taking on the final year of his contract from the Red Sox in a trade that gave up a talented, but expendable second base prospect, Josh Tobias. Some will say that Buchholz' salary will lengthen his leash a little, but why should it? That money is spent. If he struggles early on and someone like Jake Thompson is pitching well at Lehigh Valley, it will be interesting to see just how long the Phillies stick with Buchholz in the rotation. It would also be interesting to see if they would then shift him to the bullpen or just dump him. A lot of that could depend on other young arms like Adam Morgan and Joely Rodriguez, and how well they're pitching out of the Phillies bullpen.
There's got to be a fine line on just when some of the young prospects arrive in the majors. The Phillies front office used to be painstakingly cautious with young players and promoting them before they were absolutely positively sure that they were ready for the majors. This regime is more willing to challenge players both by moving them at a faster pace through the minors and then putting them on the major league roster; see Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi as examples. That willingness to move players along is going to be interesting to watch over this season and the next couple of seasons, actually, as the Phillies face some interesting decisions and young players challenge veterans, and in some cases, even other young players.
It will also be interesting to see how the Phillies deal with that $13.5-million. They refused to dump Ryan Howard, and simply eat his contract, but the situation is much different. Howard is a Philadelphia icon and Buchholz barely has had time to fill out a change of address form. Plus, when Howard first started to go south, there was a lot more money on the line than there is with Buchholz, and there weren't exactly a bunch of willing and able young prospects ready to take over at first base. It was only when Tommy Joseph was hitting near the .350 mark at Lehigh Valley that the team got more serious about sitting Howard.
Buchholz has little room to maneuver when it comes to performing this season. More than just his time with the Phillies depends on it, his next pay day depends on his performance as well. If he pitches poorly this season, he's just a below-average pitcher entering the free agent market and might be fortunate if his next offer is anything above a minor league deal. If he pitches well, and especially if the Phillies deal him to a contender and he helps their cause, then his numbers go up quickly. After all, baseball is a business, and much of the time, it's a "what have you done for me lately?" type business.
In that perfect world, Buchholz holds off Thompson until the Phillies can move him elsewhere some time in July. Now, we just have to see how perfect the Phillies world turns out to be.