BOSTON — The Red Sox kept adding starting pitchers, and Clay Buchholz kept getting bumped further down in the rotation.
There was David Price last offseason and Drew Pomeranz mid-year. By the time Chris Sale was acquired from the Chicago White Sox at the winter meetings this month, Boston had seven starters to choose from — most of them more consistent than Buchholz, and a few of them on better deals.
Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski began to sort out his starting pitching argy-bargy on Tuesday, trading Buchholz to the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league second baseman Josh Tobias.
The deal ends a decade in the Boston system in which Buchholz, a first-round draft pick, pitched a no-hitter as a rookie and twice made the All-Star game but failed to develop into a consistent and dependable member of the rotation.
“We had seven established big league starters. We felt like we had some depth there,” Dombrowski said. “The deal that made the most sense was Clay.”
Now 32, Buchholz pitched a no-hitter in 2007 in his second major league game and went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in 2010 to earn his first All-Star selection. In 2013, Buchholz was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA despite missing more than three months with a neck injury; he also pitched four scoreless innings in a victory over St. Louis in the World Series.
But he hasn’t finished above .500 since, going 8-10 with a 4.78 ERA last season while bouncing back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen. In all, he is 81-61 with a 3.96 ERA in parts of 10 big league seasons.
Heading into next season, he would have to compete for a spot on the starting staff not only with current and former Cy Young Award winners Rick Porcello and Price but with 2016 All-Stars Sale, Pomeranz and Steven Wright.
Buchholz “wouldn’t necessarily have an opportunity to start here,” Dombrowski said, adding that Eduardo Rodriguez is also competing for a spot in the rotation. “It was really our choice to pursue this one more than some of the other guys.”
Buchholz will get that chance in Philadelphia. He joins a rotation that includes Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez, with Aaron Nola joining them if healthy. Jake Thompson, Zach Effin and Alec Asher could compete for a spot if Nola’s elbow holds him back.
“I would be absolutely thrilled if this was the group we entered camp with,” said Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, who began looking at Buchholz in the middle of last year when the pitcher was being floated as trade bait. “We viewed him at that time as a potential bounce-back candidate.”
Buchholz has a $13.5 million salary in 2017, then is eligible for free agency. If he pitches well but the Phillies aren’t in contention, he could bring more back to the team than he cost.
“If the standings are looking the other way in July, we will have a number of players in the last years of their contracts,” Klentak said.
The deal also helps the Red Sox get under the threshold for baseball’s luxury tax — one of Dombrowski’s stated goals.
The club is projected to have about $184 million in commitments to salary, estimated deals with arbitration-eligible players and benefits for purposes of the luxury tax, leaving it well under next year’s $195 million tax threshold.
“It’s always part of the overall equation, not a real driving force for us,” Dombrowski said. “It fell into play here very well for us. It also creates some flexibility for us as we go forward.”
Tobias, 24, has hit .301 in 188 minor league games since being selected by the Phillies in the 10th round of the 2015 amateur draft. To make room for Buchholz on the 40-man roster, the Phillies designated third baseman Richie Shaffer for assignment.