THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Buchholz is signed to a four-year deal

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 11, 2011

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Maybe the timing wasn’t the greatest, but the theory seems sound.

Take one of your prized young players and tie him up long term.

The Red Sox did it with Jon Lester. They did it with Kevin Youkilis. They did it with Dustin Pedroia. Yesterday, they did it with Clay Buchholz.

Negotiations, which opened in spring training, were completed at the start of the season. The Red Sox probably wanted to wait to announce the deal at a better moment — as they will with Adrian Gonzalez in the next couple of weeks — but there doesn’t seem to be a good time these days.

While some in Red Sox Nation lament the Josh Beckett and John Lackey deals — each with about four years left at $17 million per year — Buchholz is only 26 and presumably will pitch better than his 0-2 record and 7.20 ERA this season.

The deal is for $28.7 million over four years, with two club option years through 2017. It gives the Red Sox cost control over Buchholz until he is 32.

Buchholz will earn $3.5 million in 2012, $5.5 million in 2013, $7.7 million in 2014, and $12 million in 2015. His 2016 option is for $13 million and the 2017 option is for $13.5 million. General manager Theo Epstein said the deal was negotiated by assistant GM Ben Cherington and Buchholz’s agent, John Courtright. Buchholz was not arbitration-eligible until next season and wouldn’t have gained free agency until 2015.

“Very happy for Clay and happy for the ball club,’’ said Epstein. “We see Clay as homegrown, a core member of this ball club. This is similar to deals we did with Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis and we expect Clay to be here for a long time and be a part of winning clubs.

“This allows him to go out and focus on the mound and do what he does best. It gives Clay and his family great security and gives the club cost control and control deeper in Clay’s career that arbitration wouldn’t have afforded.’’

Security was the key issue for Buchholz, whose father, wife, and baby daughter were at yesterday’s announcement.

“I think that’s what every player wants,’’ he said. “Being drafted by the Red Sox, it’s the only place I’ve been. It’s been a pleasure working with the front office. My family has been supportive of everything. Security is a big thing for us.’’

Epstein said the two option years were important. “With Clay being 26, the contract guarantees salaries through age 30,’’ he said. “We expect Clay to be pitching well at that point and we expect him to be here at ages 31 and 32. It seemed to make sense.’’

Asked whether he considered going through the yearly arbitration process, as teammate Jonathan Papelbon has, Buchholz said, “I gave it a lot of thought. It was a difficult decision in that aspect of it. You play this game to be secure and make money because you can’t play baseball forever. If it was me, and I didn’t have a wife or kid, it might have been a decision we would have thought about more. I knew what my heart was telling me and what my family wanted.’’

He added, “I owed a lot to the Red Sox. They drafted me. They gave me an opportunity to come up through the system. This game is not nearly as easy as people make it seem at times. It took its toll. Thought I was better than I was. They stuck with me through hard situations.’’

Buchholz said his decision was influenced by the decisions made by Lester, Youkilis, and Pedroia. “Those guys are top-tier athletes in this game and being a part of that group and being announced with those guys’ names, it just says something to me about what they think about me,’’ Buchholz said. “It makes me more confident to go out and play this game as hard as I can and pitch every fifth day and help this team win.’’

Epstein said the reward of offering a long-term deal was greater than the risk involved.

“There’s always the risk of injury in this game even with young pitching,’’ Epstein said. “I think what made it worthwhile for the club is getting a free agent year guaranteed and getting an option on two free agent years. That’s the reward for the club. We all know the cost of free agent pitching. If we can put off the decision, the better it is.

“While it’s a lot of money, compared to what it cost to bring in a free agent pitcher on a long-term contract, it’s not that much money, so it made the risk-reward worth it from our perspective. Without the option years and flexibility, it gets a little less comfortable from the club’s standpoint.’’

The Red Sox feel Buchholz will be a good, hard-working, “trusted’’ performer over the contract.

“Clay has certainly earned our trust,’’ Epstein said. “He’s developed a tremendous amount as a player and a person since he signed here out of junior college. I don’t think Clay would argue with me that in his first year, he probably wasn’t the most compliant guy in the world with our shoulder program and now he’s the star pupil on the shoulder program. He gets his work in every day. He’s really settled in with his family life and on the field and he’s become a trusted guy in this organization. He’s somebody we feel good about.’’

The Sox now have two young pieces in their rotation — Lester and Buchholz — tied up through seasons in which they would’ve become free agents.

“Develop homegrown pitching and control them and control them into free agency, that’s a very valuable thing,’’ Epstein said. “We had a lot of pitching contracts up in 2014 and Clay’s guaranteed years are up in 2014, so this extends it one year and we believe two or three years after that as well.’’

Buchholz said he’s come “a long way’’ since he was drafted.

“Had to grow up a lot in a short span of time to earn some trust in this organization,’’ he said. “I think just being drafted and follow the rules and learn the life of professional baseball is a little bit more difficult than going to school and playing baseball. So it was two different lives that I had to learn pretty quickly.

“It’s an honor. This is where I envisioned myself 10 years ago. This is what I wanted to do. I couldn’t be a part of a better organization than I am right now. With this extension, it allows me to be here a little bit longer.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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