In dealing from a position of strength when it came to moving one of their excess starting pitchers, the Red Sox made it clear what they were prioritizing: reducing payroll.
The Red Sox shipped veteran Clay Buchholz to the Philadelphia Phillies Tuesday in exchange for minor league second baseman Josh Tobias.
Tobias, 24, has yet to play above Single A ball and is not considered among the Phillies' Top 30 prospects, as judged by Baseball America. He has hit .301 in his minor league career after being drafted out of the University of Florida in the 10th round in 2015.
But the main attraction to the deal for the Red Sox was the Phillies' willingness to take on all of Buchholz's $13.5 million salary for 2017.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said he saw no need to wait until later in the winter, or into spring training, before moving Buchholz.
“I think we have a pretty good pulse of what the market is like from clubs looking for pitchers,” he said, "as well as what pitchers are available and what clubs are willing to spend.
I thought that, at this point, it was a situation where if we canmake a deal now, it makes sense...Everything tied together where it made sense to do it now, rather than wait.”
Dombrowski said trying to move a sizeable contract during spring training, by which time most clubs have their budgets set, "has not been always successful. In this case, the timing fit.”
After obtaining Chris Sale earlier this month and signing free agent first baseman Mitch Moreland, the Red Sox have been searching for ways to reduce payroll in order to get under the $195 million luxury tax threshold.
"I can't even say for sure it was 100 percent the driving force,” said Dombrowski. "I think it always comes into play. For us, I think it's advantageous to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax), based on the basic agreement. So it's something we were hopeful of doing.
"It's also a situation where it creates some flexibility going forward, with some areas we want to address as the season progresses. It's always part of the equation, but for us, not a driving force.”
With the subtraction of Buchholz's salary, BaseballReference.com now estimates that the Red Sox payroll obligations for 2017 are at $194.8 million -- just under the $195 million threshold.
That estimate includes projected salary arbitration figures for about eight players, including Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.
Dombrowski took issue with that estimate, suggesting that the Red Sox are comfortably under the $195 million figure.
"I think we would be under (if the season started today),” he said, "and we do not have to do anything at all in that regard. In fact, it gives us flexibility to do some things if we want to add.”
Dombrowski said the Sox received inquires on a number of starters, but hinted that team control with the likes of Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez made it less likely that the Sox would consider moving one of those.
"As we talked to clubs,” he said, "for us, the one that made most sense was dealing Clay. The others have some longer time (of control); (Buchholz) was in his last year (before free agency). But it was our choice to pursue this more so than some of the other guys.”
Buchholz's career in Boston was marked by inconsistency and frequent injury setbacks. After tossing a no-hitter in his second big league start, Buchholz experienced massive swings in performance.
Beginning in 2007, he compiled a 81-61 mark with a 3.96 ERA. An All-Star selection in both 2010 and 2013, he never managed to make 30 starts in a single season or reach 200 innings.
In 2016, he pitched himself out of the rotation in late May, before returning from an exile to the bullpen in the final two months, going 5-1 with a 2.80 ERA after July 27.
He was longest tenured pitcher in the organization and only Dustin Pedroia had spent more time with the Red Sox.
"He was very understanding and thankful,” said Dombrowski, who spoke with Buchholz to inform him of the deal. "I thanked him for everything he did in the organization. He was understanding of the situation. He enjoyed his time here. He thought also maybe
it was a spot where a change of scenery, a fresh opportunity, isn't always a bad thing.”
The Phillies have stockpiled a number of veterans a year away from free agency (Jeremy Hellickson, Howie Kendrick, Pat Neshek and Buchholz), which could make them big players at the July trade deadline.
Dombrowski said what interested the Sox in Tobias was "basically, he's a good hitter. He recently took up switch-hitting. But we really like his bat. We think he has a chance to hit as he continues to progress up the ladder. So that's his real plus.”