EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 29, 2009

Worth the price: Buchholz is worth the price to acquire Halladay

Buchholz is worth the price to acquire Halladay

On Baseball

BOSTON — All eyes were on Clay Buchholz last night, and it was not just because he was the starting pitcher for the Red Sox against Oakland.

Prior to yesterday's game, rumors swirled around Fenway Park that Boston had offered Buchholz as the centerpiece of a three-player package in a trade for Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, generally considered the most dominant pitcher in baseball.

"There are things that you can't control," said Buchholz after his no-decision in Boston's 9-8 loss to the A's. "That's something you have no control over, and it's the organization's needs. So, I just let it go in one ear and out the other until somebody in here tells me something."

With the trading deadline on Friday, it had become accepted that S ox had dropped out of the sweepstakes for Halladay, the most prized player available. But now, the rumored deal would send Buchholz, fellow prized pitching prospect Michael Bowden and Lowell Spinners standout Ryan Westmoreland, the No. 6-ranked prospect in the Sox organization, to the Jays for the six-time All-Star.

Whether the rumor is true or not, it's fun to think about. For Halladay, a future Hall of Famer, some may consider that a bargain for the Sox. If Boston is dedicated to winning a World Series title in 2009, passing on a deal for Halladay would seem to make little sense.

Trading Buchholz has been an unpopular notion amongst Red Sox fans this season. He has been anointed the savior of Boston's organization since the lanky righty threw his no-hitter on Sept. 1, 2007 at just 23-years-old. It ended up being the final start of a debut season that saw him go 3-1 with a 1.56 ERA in three starts and one game out of the bullpen.

But it has been a well-publicized bumpy ride for the 2005 first-round pick out of Angelina Junior College since then. Buchholz opened the 2008 season in the Sox starting rotation, but proceeded to go 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in 15 starts and one relief appearance before being sent to the minors. He allowed at least four earned runs in nine of his last 10 starts, and in the other he surrendered three.

He returned to dominate Triple-A this season before he was called up and made his first start on July 17. But, despite the fanfare, his return to the Bigs has hardly been historic.

After a solid, if unspectacular, first start against Toronto (1 earned run in 5 2/3 innings), he allowed three earned runs in just four innings before being lifted against Texas. Last night, he was again decent, throwing 5 2/3 innings, allowing nine hits and two runs, both in the second, and struck out five.

"He gave up some early contact on his fastball," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "But, to his credit he didn't shy away. There were a lot of early hits, but I thought he did OK. His breaking ball was much crisper."

So, he's done pretty well. But, it must be asked: If Toronto is interested, is there any reason the Sox should not pull the trigger on this deal for Halladay?

"We pay attention," said Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I don't think we talk like, 'I hope we get this guy or that guy.' But we know what's going on. The trades that are being reported the loudest don't usually happen. But it's only natural to pay attention."

Buchholz has plenty of (the dreaded) potential, and at 24-years-old he is eight years younger than Halladay, whose contract is up after next year. But, Halladay also happens to be the best pitcher in baseball.

In 19 starts this season, Halladay is 11-3 with a 2.62 ERA and 123 strikeouts. That is just the latest chapter in a Hall of Fame career. He has won at least 16 games five times and has finished with an ERA of 3.50 or better eight times, including last year when he was 20-11 with a 2.76 ERA. He won the Cy Young in 2003.

On player that is no stranger to trading deadline dealings is Sox outfielder Jason Bay, who was sent from Pittsburgh to Boston in the Manny Ramirez deal last year. He admitted some curiosity in what the Sox will be doing, whether or not it involves Halladay.

"It's one of those situations that comes every year," said Bay. "Everyone says to just play baseball. It doesn't really affect you on the field. But aft er the game you are calling your agent or going on the internet to see what's going on. It's human nature. You want to see if the team is making a move or not."

Buchholz has the stuff to be a standout, and maybe even a star. But Halladay is already an undisputed ace. If the Red Sox are able to enter the playoffs with Halladay, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in their rotation, another banner may not be far behind. Even if it is at the expense of a few prospects.

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