NEW YORK — The $13.5 million risk on Clay Buchholz produced two starts, a 12.27 ERA, and arm surgery Tuesday. It served as a reminder for Phillies president Andy MacPhail of how fragile and expensive veteran pitchers like Buchholz are. A reminder that the Phillies, if they are to jump in the standings, must develop young pitchers.
The Phillies, MacPhail said, are batting .333 in rotation stabilizers. Jeremy Hellickson has performed well for them. But for the second straight season, a potential Phillies pitching flip became a flop. Buchholz and Charlie Morton combined to make six starts at a $22.5 million price tag.
“On the good side, none of those investments are beyond one year,” MacPhail said Tuesday. “It’s not something that’s going to materially impact our team going forward. It’s not something that’s going to alter our strategy. It’s just a living reminder of the risks you take when you get into this world.”
Buchholz underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right arm. It will be months before he throws a baseball again. His season is most likely done.
“It’s too bad that happened,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.
The Phillies said Buchholz’s estimated time for return is four to six months.
They traded Josh Tobias, a 24-year-old second baseman in single A, to Boston for Buchholz last December. The trade was a Red Sox salary dump. Both trades, the way the Phillies saw it, were logical because the only potential loss was a financial one.
But Morton and Buchholz arrived with extensive injury histories, and that could be the one lesson learned for the Phillies’ front office. Buchholz has now spent time on the disabled list in seven of his 11 seasons.
MacPhail said he had no knowledge of red flags during the exchange of medical information last December. But when Buchholz put on a Phillies uniform, something was obviously wrong.
“Clearly, we had two or three guys that saw him late in the year and liked what they saw,” MacPhail said. “But in addition to that, it’s not just scouts capturing him on a certain day. You have all the empirical data that is in every major-league park that’s done by TrackMan and other technologies that tell us, really from the day he got to spring training, that he was 2-3 mph short of where he was when he finished up last year.”
The recovery time for a flexor tendon operation is significantly less than Tommy John surgery. But it could still prevent Buchholz from pitching again in 2017.
Buchholz consulted James Andrews, the renowned orthopedist, on Monday for a second opinion. The 32-year-old pitcher suffered the same injury in 2015 and missed almost three months. At that time, Andrews advised Buchholz that non-surgical treatment was the best route.
Less than two years later, the righthander required surgery.
“I know there’s a time we’re going to have to get involved in it, but … I think there’s going to be a lot more opportunities to add free-agent position players,” MacPhail said. “Pitching is just something that should give you pause for concern.”