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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Red Sox Could Be Left With (Gulp) Clay Buchholz as Their 'Ace'


The ship is sinking, taking on more water than it can handle at this point, its stern heading directly for depths untold with the Red Sox scrambling to do whatever they can to keep themselves above the waves, offering their passengers to passing vessels before the ocean swallows the remaining souls. The one-time party boat is now at the mercy of Poseidon, emitting no hope until the pontoon of spring training offers the remaining passengers a semblance of retribution.

Bobby Valentine must be sitting ashore in that hellhole otherwise known as Stamford, Conn., enjoying a good laugh about all this. Forty-six games remain in Boston’s disastrous follow-up to its 2013 World Series victory, and the Red Sox need to go 22-24 in order to surpass the 69 wins that the last-place team under Valentine’s guise managed to amass. Based on what we’ve seen this season, that’s not likely to happen with Jon Lester and John lackey at the front of the rotation, downright near impossible if one, or both, is traded prior to Thursday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline.

Yup, not only are the Red Sox reportedly floating free-agent-to-be Lester on the trade market, but also counterpart Lackey, due to make the league minimum in 2015 unless he (wink) decides to retire. Either pitcher will require an impressive package of major-league-ready prospects in return to entice Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino to part with their two horses at the top of the rotation, which has already seen the departure of Jake Peavy, traded to the San Francisco Giants over the weekend. If both guys go, that will leave the 29-year-old Ghost of Clay Buchholz as the veteran presence among Red Sox starting pitchers.

I’m no baseball architect, but I can tell you if there’s one way to run your team into the ground faster than you can say “body pillow,” it’s by building a starting pitching staff around the confounding Buchholz, a player who has exhibited flashes of brilliance, but doesn’t seem capable of – or worse, willing to – discover a way to maintain any semblance of consistency. Oh, Buchholz’s latest, Monday night at Fenway Park, was a doozy, allowing seven hits and seven earned runs to the Toronto Blue Jays in a game where the best that could be said about his performance is that he wasn’t Felix “Christine” Doubront (2/3 of an inning, six hits, two walks, one home run, and six earned runs).

“Overall I felt pretty good with command, location,” said Buchholz, who probably watched “Old Yeller” as a kid and came away indifferent based on how he judges each of his apoplectic starts to be on the level. “A couple of pitches that got hit and got a couple of ground balls that would have done us some good just out of reach of a couple of guys, they hit the pitches I missed.”

That could be your “ace” going forward, Red Sox fans.

“Clay’s a talented pitcher. Very, very talented,” catcher David Ross said. “He just had a bad night.”

I wonder if he knows that we’re all in on the joke.

In 11 of his 17 starts this season, Buchholz has allowed four runs or more to cross home plate, five times he’s given up six or more earned runs in a start. He’s now 5-7 overall with a 5.87 ERA and a 1.562 WHIP and the Red Sox could very well be turning the keys to the car over to him. The vehicle should be in a ditch sometime around Labor Day.

If you suddenly have visions of Steve Avery and Matt Clement keeping you up at night, it’s only logical to peruse the upcoming free agent market to try and decipher which half-assed starter the Red Sox can get on the cheap to replace a long-time presence in their rotation, just as they did with Avery in the wake of losing Roger Clemens, and Clement to help ease the transition due to Pedro Martinez’s departure (Clement’s 10-2, All-Star first-half in 2005 may be the most underappreciated oddity in baseball history). Jorge De La Rosa (wouldn’t it be cute to pair him with Rubby De La Rosa? I smell a NESN commercial!), J.A. Happ, and Colby Lewis will all be available to try and sell as reasonable replacements to play the role this time around. In 1997, Avery joined a staff that featured Aaron Sele, Tim Wakefield, Tom Gordon, and Jeff Suppan. In 2005, Clement teamed up with Curt Schilling, Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo, David Wells, and Wade Miller. The only logical avenue to approach in 2015 would clearly be to get the 47-year-old Wakefield out of that TV studio suit and tie and back into uniform to join Buchholz, an overpriced free agent (but only for three years!), De La Rosa (the other one), Allen Webster, and Brandon Workman in the starting rotation.

Good God, what an unsalvageable mess.

That’s not to say the Red Sox shouldn’t explore selling on their best players. They should indeed sell them to the highest bidders by Thursday, and no, I have no idea why that list does not include pending free agent Koji Uehara. Like the Sox are going to be in a position to use their closer much over the next two months anyway? Give me a break.

But if Cherington is trying to sell fans on the team being competitive in 2015 and deals both Lester and Lackey in the process, he might as well join the Boston Olympic Committee for all the empty promise and cotton candy dreams that he’ll be dishing out. For the Red Sox to be players next season without their top two starters, they need to place an inordinate amount of responsibility on Buchholz. This is frightening.

“I’ve got a lot of games left to pitch,” Buchholz said.

That’s exactly what we’re afraid of.

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