The Red Sox have been in something of a slump of late when it comes to contracts. Ever since the extensions of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester--collectively perhaps the best extensions the majors have seen in a long time--it's been bust after bust. John Lackey? Josh Beckett? Mike Cameron? Who feels good about those signings? And while it's far too early to condemn Carl Crawford based on a six-game sample size, even if he does prove to be the same old player, it's hard to really call it a great deal just based on the amount of money involved (thus, always, with big-name free agents).
Hopefully, with the Sox returning to their roots of locking up their own young talent, the extension of Clay Buchholz will break the trend. It seems a very real possibility.
The thing about signing a player already under team control is that it's not just about getting equal value for your money, but also about paying less than you otherwise would have in arbitration and free agency. Too often people take for granted that the players involved would have been with the team regardless of an extension, and for some years, likely would have even been cheaper. The real question on an extension should always be whether or not you would have had to pay more otherwise.
The price the Sox would be looking at otherwise depends largely on Clay Buchholz' performance in 2011, but not completely. 2010 was such an incredible year for him, after all, that he could likely have rested some on those laurels alone and made a good deal of money in his first arbitration year. Consider the case of Justin Verlander: After putting up a 3.63 ERA in 2006 and a 3.66 in 2007, Verlander sort of fell apart going into arbitration with a 4.84 mark. Most pitchers with an ERA that high aren't about to make much money in their first year of arbitration, but Verlander picked up nearly $4 million.
Considering that arbitration figures almost never shrink as players gain service time, and that the average raises as time goes on in general, it's hard to see Clay making much less than the $7.5 million a year he received from the team in his extension even if he was just a league average sort of pitcher. If he even came close to repeating his 2010 figures, those numbers would likely get even higher, especially in the third year. Red Sox fans need look no further than Jonathan Papelbon to know just how large they can get, even for a guy who throws a fraction of the innings and is on the decline.
And then there's the free agency year, and the two club options. Again, just going with a baseline of a league average pitcher, Clay comes in well under market price. The Nationals shelled out the same amount for Jason Marquis a little over a year ago.
Of course, the downside is there. The Sox could have just locked themselves in on a guy who's going to spend most of his contract on the disabled list. Or maybe he'll randomly lose all effectiveness and spend his career bouncing between Triple-A and the back of the bullpen. But these are possibilities at least as remote as the chance that he does continue to be the impressive pitcher he was in 2010, and if that occurs, than the Sox are going to come out way on top.
And as for Clay, well, he's just wrapped up financial security for life. Can't get much better than that.