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An Unlikely Trade Chip: Taylor Buchholz

New York media has recently honed in on the possible return for Mets stars Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran. Their fascination is well-founded, as the Mets should receive good-to-great prospects if they were to trade any of those players. However, Sandy Alderson has not publicly stated that all or any of those players are locks to be traded. Of the bunch, Beltran is the most likely to go, but there is one other player further down on the food chain who will certainly be trade-bound come the deadline. And that player is Taylor Buchholz.

The right-handed pitcher was originally drafted by the Phillies in the 6th round of the 2000 amateur draft. From 2000 to 2003, Buchholz owned a combined 30 wins, 3.47 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 2.71 K/BB between Rookie-Level and Double-A (mostly as a starting pitcher). His performance was enough to elevate his prospect status to #50 in Baseball America’s top prospects. Buchholz’s tenure with the Phillies didn’t last long, as he was part of the trade that sent veteran closer Billy Wagner from the Houston Astros to the Phillies. While the top prospect fared well against lower level hitters, Buchholz struggled at Triple-A with the Astros. The pitcher posted a combined 13 wins, 5.02 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and 2.13 K/BB from 2004 to 2006 (all in Triple-A). Even though he struggled in Triple-A, the Astros still promoted Buchholz in 2006, where he posted a lopsided 6 wins, 5.89 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 2.26 K/BB.

Buchholz was then shuttled to the Colorado Rockies in December 2006 with Jason Hirsh and Willy Taveras for Jason Jennings and Miguel Asencio. While the righty had predominantly been a starter throughout his career, the Rockies put him in the bullpen. The move was a successful one. Buchholz posted a 4.23 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 3.05 K/BB (his highest ratio since 2003 in Double-A). Now with a year of bullpen service under his belt, the former starter became a stud reliever for the Rockies in 2008. The 26 year-old setup man posted a tremendous 2.17 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 3.11 K/BB. It finally seemed like something clicked for the righty–but then it all went downhill.

After enjoying a career-boosting 2008 season, Buchholz was forced to sit-out all of 2009 due to Tommy John surgery. He bounced back in July 2010, only to be placed back on the disabled list with a back injury after a mediocre stint (4.50 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 1.50 K/BB). Due to his injuries, the Rockies cut ties with the reliever. Buchholz signed with the Toronto Blue Jays (making just two appearances), and then found his way with the Boston Red Sox (no appearances) after the Jays cut him loose.

Despite his injury-filled 2009 and lackluster 2010 seasons, the New York Mets decided to take a chance on the formerly successful reliever. The Mets signed Taylor Buchholz to a $600,000, one-year deal in the hopes that he’d regain form. So far, the now 29 year-old has been a true blessing. Buchholz has posted a 1.45 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and career-high 3.50 K/BB in 18.6 innings. Not only is the reliever healthy again, but Buchholz also appears to be back to his almost All-Star, 2008 self.

In terms of trade value, there are a few things going for Buchholz and the Mets. The first of which is the obvious–his incredible season so far. Any playoff-contending team would flip a prospect for a shutdown setup man like Buchholz. The second, and arguable most valuable asset, is that Buchholz only has 4.14 year of Major League experience under his belt. Essentially, the pitcher would still be under team-control until he reaches his full six years (likely before or during 2013). Unlike the usual “rental” trades that tend to cripple farm systems, a prospective team would at least have Buchholz at a reasonable rate for the next few seasons. Those are aspects that Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran all do not possess.

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