The Red Sox have made their move, signing David Price to a 7-year, $217 million contract. And the message from Boston is clear: no half measures.
There's no doubt about it: this is a huge commitment to make to any one player. One far beyond Boston's previous high marks both in total dollars and yearly salary. And it's exactly the sort of deal that the Red Sox have flinched from in years gone by. They'd be in on big names, yes, but never the biggest. Out on Greinke and Hamilton in 2012, on Cano in 2013, and Scherzer in 2014.
The problem for these Red Sox, though, is that they already had their fill of mid-level rotation members. The 2015 plan for a rotation full of #3s with ground ball tendencies didn't quite work out, no, but if Rick Porcello was an abomination in the first half, he came back strong at the end, and is pretty much impossible to trade besides. If Clay Buchholz once again failed to go the distance, he at least showed he was still capable of being a strong contributor when on the mound. And if Wade Miley is no star, he's cheap and serviceable. Add in the up-and-coming Eduardo Rodriguez, and you've got four men to a five-man rotation with no obvious picks to jettison away to open up another spot. Four-fifths complete by numbers, but only about halfway to where they want it to be by talent.
And it wasn't like the Red Sox could just improve on the other size of the ball. Their position players are pretty much all in place. Yes, they could've bent over backwards and sold very low on players like Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rusney Castillo, or Jackie Bradley Jr. Someone would have taken those players off Boston's hands, but they wouldn't have gotten much back, and they'd likely be eating at least half of Ramirez, Sandoval, and Castillo's contracts. Find Dave Dombrowski a free agent who would still look good for $10 million more per year and maybe it'd make sense to go that route rather than gambling on improvements.
Yes, there is likely some perfect master plan out there which would have seen the Red Sox trade away half of their team and build it completely anew. Some perfect set of maneuvers which would leave the Red Sox with a 2013-style rejuvenation. But that's the sort of thing you'd expect from Ben Cherington, and when it goes wrong, it goes dramatically wrong. See: Daniel Bard to the rotation, Hanley Ramirez to the outfield. The Red Sox did not bring in Dave Dombrowski to be Ben Cherington. They did not bring him in to get fancy.
So Dave Dombrowski didn't. The bullpen needed improvement, so he went and got one of the best closers in the game. The rotation needed to take a big step forward in just one move, so they signed David Price. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated, nothing uncertain. No half measures.
Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski ---This is David Price celebrating. The Red Sox got David Price because they expect him to be celebrating again at season's end.
There are two sides to that approach. Let's get the bad side out of the way first: David Price is probably not going to be this good when he's 37. He'll probably start heading downhill at some point, and by the end of things, he may represent quite the weight on the payroll. It's the sort of weight the Sox can absorb, though, particularly as $30 million starts looking like less and less money as the years go by (remember: CC Sabathia's $160/7 was massive in 2009). It's just a question of how many of these huge contracts they can commit to at once, and for now, there's nothing currently on the books for the years that the Red Sox are really worried about. And of course there's always that opt-out. If the Red Sox end up getting a 3-year, $93 million deal out of this for the best years of one of the game's best arms? That's fantastic.
Now for the good. There are no guarantees in baseball, but this is about as close as it gets. David Price is going to be very good. We, for once, have no qualifiers here. No "if he can handle left field," or "if his peripherals prove out" or "if he can survive the transition to the American League East." David Price has been here and done this. He's been good year in and year out. He's stayed on the mound and beaten the best over and over again. Fenway Park has born witness to 74 of those innings, and only 16 of his runs.
Sox will 'likely' trade starter after signing Pric
The Red Sox have six starters in the majors if you count Joe Kelly, so someone has to move somewhere.
And that was what the Red Sox wanted. They couldn't afford to have their next big signing join Sandoval, Ramirez, and Porcello in the realm of the overpaid and underperforming. Even if you think the expected value on Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann is better, the fact is that they're not sure things. Zimmermann is very likely to be good, but not great in the way the Red Sox need. If Cueto's second half is real, he'll be a disaster, even if the other side of that coin is a pitcher Price's equal at 75% of the cost. The Sox weren't looking for a gamble. Price will take up a huge chunk of the payroll, and he will be worth it, at least for now.
And for what it's worth, the no-half-measures approach is pretty much done now. Can the Red Sox take another couple steps forward? Sure. Add another bullpen arm if we're being realistic--they seem to be on track for that already--maybe do something dramatic at the corner if we're talking crazy. But they've got their big closer. They've got their ace. They've got a team full of young players that showed what they could do late in the 2015 season. There isn't another big shoe to fall. If the Red Sox take this team into the season as it stands, they'll be in excellent position in the East, with assets to push them over the top at the deadline if the need arises. They're not all-in--they can't be with their farm system as stacked as it is--but they've checked the big boxes on their to do list with two of the best players in the game at their position. For David Ortiz, for Boston, or just for John Henry's sanity, they're taking no chances with 2016.