The cynic would point to the timing and say, “Really?” The Red Sox said Sunday that Clay Buchholz had been signed to a four-year contract, with two additional club option years.

This came hours after he gave up five runs (four earned) in three and two-thirds innings against the Yankees.

Recent results notwithstanding, Buchholz is an outstanding young pitcher who has some of the best stuff on the staff.

The Sox are wagering that Buchholz is the pitcher who went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA last season, not the guy who is off to an 0-2, 7.20 start in 2011.

The Red Sox starting rotation is off to a rocky start this season, but management clearly still believes it is one of the best in baseball. It had better be, because it is going to be here for awhile.

The Sox have four pitchers under contract through 2014 or beyond, so the starting pitchers you see this summer are likely to be the starters taking the mound for a few years to come.

Josh Beckett is in the first year of a four-year, $68 million contract. John Lackey is in year two of a five-year, $82.5 million deal. John Lester is also under the Red Sox control through 2014, the club option year on what would be a six-year, $43 million deal (assuming they take the option.)

Now, Buchholz has signed a deal worth a reported $28.7 million through 2015 — with team options for 2016 and 2017 that could bring the total contract to $55.2 million.

Yes, it’s a staff that has given up a shocking number of home runs this season, but it’s the type of rotation most teams would love to have.

Throw in the always-enigmatic Daisuke Matsuzaka as the fifth starter (under contract through the end of next season), and the Sox know what their rotation is going to look like.

Signing Buchholz was a no-brainer. He had the second-lowest ERA in the American League last season, adding confidence to a dazzling repertoire of pitches.

He’s only 26 years old and would be at or near the top of most team’s rotations.

There was a time when Red Sox fans wondered why the team didn’t lock up its key players, why the stars of 2004 were allowed to leave while the Yankees kept their nucleus intact with new contracts. That was because GM Theo Epstein has refused to reward aging players with long-term deals that will tie up resources with players who will be well past their prime.

That’s why Johnny Damon, in town with the Rays, and Pedro Martinez, looking to make a comeback, were allowed to leave.

It’s why Victor Martinez is in Detroit. It’s why Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar and Derek Lowe didn’t finish their careers with the Sox.

It’s also why Buchholz, Lester, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have been signed to long-term deals. All four were locked up in their 20s, all signed to deals that would keep them in Red Sox uniforms through their prime baseball years.

Buchholz is the latest to join the list of Sox players with long-term security. With the deal done, he can now concentrate on getting back to the pitcher he was last season.

With his next start Friday at Fenway, that return to form can’t come soon enough.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.