What To Do with Clay Buchholz and Phil Hughes

Greg SheehanCorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2009

Maybe you're in a fantasy baseball keeper league and you found these guys years ago. Maybe you're getting ready for your fantasy baseball draft this year.

Or just maybe, you are the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees. I'll address all these positions by answering the same question:

What do we do with Clay Buchholz and Phil Hughes?

Let's look at their similarities:

Both were highly rated as prospects, and both got off to promising starts. Somehow, both are heading in to the 2009 season with their rotation spot very much in jeopardy.

Heading into 2008, Clay Buchholz was the top pitching prospect in the deep Red Sox organization.

At first, he drew comparisons to Joba Chamberlain based on their anticipated arrival dates, their K/IP ratios in the minors, and their body of work in 2007.  Joba's ERA was 0.38 and Clay had a no-hitter.

Phil Hughes headed in to 2007 rated the No. 2 prospect in the Minor Leagues by Baseball Digest.

Like Buchholz, in only his second major league start he threw a no-hitter through 6 1/3 innings. Both players left the game with a no-hitter, but Phil Hughes pulled his hamstring and couldn't finish. 

Clay went nine thanks in part to Dustin Pedroia, who made one of the best defensive plays at second base I've personally ever seen.

In 2008, Hughes struggled with a rib injury and Buchholz struggled with his fastball and his confidence. 

By the end of the year, Clay was sent back to the minors, and Hughes was able to make two starts at the major league level, finishing with an eight-inning game against Toronto in late September.

Considering their inconsistent 2008 campaigns, why do they deserve a spot in the rotation?

I can't simply assume that every former prospect will automatically be handed a spot in a rotation. However, I have to assume that when a team is reluctant to trade them, they foresee some development and contributions. 

Instead, both teams made additions to their pitching staff rather than counting on their developing systems to carry the workload.


What To Do with Phil Hughes

The Yankees starting rotation appears to be:

1.  CC Sabathia

2.  AJ Burnett

3.  Chien-Ming Wang

4.  Joba Chamberlain

5.  Andy Pettite

I'm confident that this batch of arms will generate an opening. 

Burnett has had some injury problems, CC put a lot of innings on his arm last year, Wang is on his way back from an injury, Pettite is a consistent pitcher but one year older, Joba Chamberlain will likely be on an innings-pitched limitation, and if anything happens to Mariano Rivera, you have to assume that Joba would go right in to the closer's role.

This is a great position for the Yankees to be in, considering that there are young pitchers coming up behind Hughes that can start or close games. 

If you have Hughes on your fantasy team, you want Joba to set up Rivera, or even better, you want Hughes to get traded to an NL West team where he can collect some great stats in exchange for wins.

If you are the Yankees, why would you trade Hughes?  Where are you soft? 

Can you get trade value for him if he's not in the rotation? 



Fantasy keepers league GM's should hang on to him. If he's that good, he has to start somewhere, sometime soon.


Fantasy Draft Prep

He's going to be a top-75 starter because he has to pitch at some point. Perhaps it'll be in spot-starts, but when he does, he will eat innings. He's bulked up in the offseason, and with that lineup he's going to get some great run support. 

If Joba moves to the bullpen, Hughes will be a sleeper to be your No. 2 starter, and you can get him for cheap.


New York Yankees

Trade him at the deadline in a package for another bat in the outfield.  Matt Holliday should be available for a sign-and-trade, for example, with Oakland. 

New York has Mark Teixeira, but I don't think that the offense is as deep as its pitching. Personally I'd move Joba to the bullpen and stretch him out another year, but I can see Hughes getting flipped for a bat.


What To Do with Clay Buchholz

During this offseason, we saw the Texas Rangers, namely Nolan Ryan, show a lot of interest in Buchholz. As I understand these communications, Texas was prepared to trade one of their top catching prospects.

While at the time Boston didn't have their every day catcher, they didn't feel like they'd need one.

Jason Varitek was a free agent who just hit .220, and to sign him with his free agent restrictions, the signing team would also have to give draft picks to the Red Sox. Forseeably, there wasn't a lot of interest in Varitek and Boston was able to re-sign the Captain.

So, you could argue that Boston evaluated Buchholz higher than either one of Texas' catching prospects, but on the other hand you could argue that Boston simply didn't feel that a catcher was the desired trade reciprocal for Buchholz.

There is no doubt that Boston certainly thinks highly and thoroughly of Buchholz's talent. 

His no-hitter was an exciting victory for the scouting department and they have adjusted his release point to help him cement his transition into the big leagues.

Whether to decrease arm strain, increase deception and control, or speed, Buchholz was a work in progress over the 2008 season and never hit his stride.

Boston's rotation is deep.

1.  John Lester

2.  Josh Beckett

3.  Daisuke Matsuzaka

4.  Tim Wakefield

5.  John Smoltz

Before Smoltz pitches in late May or June, the last spot will probably go to Brad Penny, with Michael Bowden and Justin Masterson available for spot starts, as well as Buchholz.

For Buchholz to earn a rotation spot, he basically has to pitch well enough to put Wakefield in the crowded, deep bullpen. 

With so many one-inning pitchers in the bullpen, Masterson seems to be the de-facto long relief man, which would be Wakefield's most probable role if he's moved to the bullpen.



Fantasy keeper-league GM's should realize that last year was his rookie year and should realize that pitching consistency is very tough to come by. Just look at Justin Verlander.

But they should also realize that Clay is turning 25 this year, and if you are waiting for a late-bloomer, you should set a cutoff date with Clay.

I wouldn't get too concerned about the crowded rotation here in early February, we'll see him at some point and if he wants a spot he has to earn it. Pitching well creates a trade value for Boston during the season that might not be there right now. 

Set the egg-timer for the MLB trade deadline if you are considering his long-term potential unless you can stack up on a lot of keepers.


Fantasy Draft Prep

As of today, you don't even need to draft him, but that assumes that Penny breaks camp with the early four or five spot. You could take a flier on him in late rounds, considering that Lester threw a lot last year, Dice-K missed time, Beckett has battled injuries, and Wakefield has to be due for an arm problem.

Ok, maybe not, but Penny and Smoltz are returning from some serious reconstruction. The problem is that unlike Hughes, Buchholz doesn't appear to be able to flaunt his dominance. 

We haven't seen his high-90s fastball. Hughes ended the year throwing eight innings against Toronto, while Buchholz ended the year in the minors looking for his fastball.

The upside to having him on your fantasy team is much more long-term than immediate.  Watch him in the spring—he can only go up from here.


Boston Red Sox

Michael Holley of WEEI was asked about having a surplus of starters in the Boston rotation some time ago and said that "these things have a way of working themselves out." 

What I took from that is that starting pitching is precious, having too much is not a dilemma, and you can't possibly project when and where the need for additional pitching will arise.

Boston is in a catch-22: If Buchholz matches his potential, he's priceless—he's untradable. 

The way he's pitching now, he's not giving Boston the trade value that he could demand, so Boston is hesitant to sell him at a discount.

My prediction is that Buchholz enjoys another year going back and forth between the majors and the minors, and don't expect to see him get traded this year.

Read more from Greg Sheehan at www.turningtwo.com


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