The Phillies now have approximately 15 starting pitchers on their 40 man roster as they acquire Clay Buchholz from the Red Sox in a salary dump. In return they send 2B Josh Tobias and $13.5 million in salary relief to Boston. Additionally the Phillies designated IF/OF Richie Shaffer for assignment to open up a spot on the 40 man roster. On the surface the trade follows a pattern for Matt Klentak who has acquired Charlie Morton, Jeremy Hellickson, Howie Kendrick, and Pat Neshek for essentially nothing.
Starting first with the player leaving Philly: Tobias was a 10th round pick in 2015 who hit .291/.362/.422 across Lakewood and Clearwater while being stuck behind Scott Kingery on the depth chart. Tobias played second base last season, but no one I spoke to thinks he can handle it defensively everyday. The Phillies had started having him work at his college position of 3B as well as left field and first base to prepare him to be used as a utility man down the line. Tobias was my #46 prospect in the system and had tentatively moved up to #41 before the trade. He is a player with a potential major league future, but is not a player the Phillies will miss.
Clay Buchholz is not a player that anyone particularly likes to watch pitch. He was not good last year and at $13.5 million was a piece the Red Sox did not need. For the Phillies he is yet another arm in their rotation (or bullpen) and for now takes the slot of Zach Eflin or Jake Thompson. In 2015 Buchholz started 18 games with a 3.26 ERA for the Red Sox and he seemed to recapture some of that in August and September with a 3.02 ERA over 50.2 innings that included a stop in the bullpen. The big problem with Buchholz over his career has been staying healthy and he has topped 170 innings just 3 time in 10 seasons. Given that he is currently the Phillies #5 starter and they have the depth to withstand injuries this should not be a problem.
Without knowledge of future deals or injuries this seems like a smart move for the Phillies. They are risking some money (a resource they have in abundance), but they are betting that a healthy half season in the NL East and not the AL East will make Buchholz an attractive trade piece midseason. If he is bad the Phillies could shift him to the bullpen and call up one of their other young arms, or just move on with no long term repercussions.
For now this does heighten a log jam that has Alec Asher, Zach Eflin, and Jake Thompson (and I guess Adam Morgan) all looking at return trips to AAA after spending time in the majors. They are likely to be joined by Mark Appel and Ben Lively, on what should be a loaded IronPigs roster. This scenario is a little less fun than having them in the majors, but it was clear that Eflin, Thompson, and Asher may not be finished products yet.
The other casualty is Richie Shaffer who was claimed off waivers last week. Shaffer was an awkward fit for the Phillies as a right handed corner bat. If the Phillies get him through waivers he has some value in AAA, if not, he cost them nothing to begin with.
The only real downside to this trade is having to watch Clay Buchholz pitch for the Phillies. Otherwise, the Phillies suddenly have enviable pitching depth and deadline trade chips while continuing to not deplete their prospect supply or future financial flexibility.