February 14, 2017
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Exactly two weeks after his team bolstered an already strong pitching staff (one with two Cy Young winners in David Price and Rick Porcello) by adding lethal left-hander Chris Sale to the mix, the longest-tenured Boston Red Sox pitcher was with his family, about to board a plane for a late December vacation when his phone rang.
Clay Buchholz, who had been with the Red Sox since he was 20-years old, had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.
“It was weird,” Buchholz recalled Tuesday in Clearwater, Fla., before the Phillies held their first official workout of the spring. “I definitely thought (the Chris Sale deal) was the trade I was going to be a part of. But that’s part of the game. I knew the option that they picked up, it was something they could try to work with other teams with because it was a relatively cheap option. It landed me here and I’m happy to be here.”
The 32-year-old Buchholz is due to make $13.5 million in 2017, joining a rotation with fellow veteran Jeremy Hellickson and, if everyone is healthy, three of the most accomplished members of the Phillies’ pitching youth, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola, and Vince Velasquez.
The last two months could have easily been a culture shock for Buchholz after spending the entirety of his career in one place. Even something as routine as putting on a cherry red hat after wearing the navy cap with the scripted ‘B’ on the front could feel awkward.
But he’s had some time to prepare.
“I think everybody nowadays knows 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. For 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.”
And, as with anyone who is traded away from an organization they spent so much time with, Buchholz could enter his 11th big league season with a new motivation.
“I think it energizes anybody,” Buchholz said. “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.”
A former top prospect who collected two World Series rings with the Red Sox but endured his own ups and downs, Buchholz had a challenging 2016 season in Boston. He had a 6.35 ERA through 10 starts and quickly found himself in a new role – he worked out of the bullpen for a chunk of the summer.
But the demotion may have helped him in the long run. Buchholz allowed two runs or fewer in six of his eight starts upon returning to the rotation in the season’s final two months.
During his time as a reliever, he scrapped his mechanics and began pitching out of the stretch.
“I eliminated a lot of movement that I feel like I didn’t need and could concentrate on throwing the pitch and throwing it where I wanted to throw it, rather than mechanical flaws or trying to do something different through a windup,” he said. “I’m coming into camp right now thinking I’m staying in the stretch because it worked out good for me.”
If it works out good for him, it could work out good for the Phillies, too. Buchholz is among the group of veterans the team added this winter who are unsigned for the 2018 season, and thus, candidates to be moved before the July 31 trade deadline if they perform well in the season’s first four months.
“I’ve been in trade rumors since 2005 when I got drafted, so I know it’s not something I can do anything with regardless if I think about them or I don't think about them,” Buchholz said. “All I can do is go out and pitch and try to stay healthy throughout the season.”