With the signing of David Price on Tuesday, the Red Sox and Dave Dombrowski proved all their talk about spending on a free-agent starter to lead the rotation was genuine. The addition of Price immediately cements the team's credentials as a playoff contender in the American League.
Indeed, Dombrowski was quick to emphasize earlier this offseason that the club's biggest objective was to add a top-flight arm. There's a reason Red Sox fans still pined for Jon Lester over a year after he'd been traded, and there's a reason Boston's owners saw the need to finally spend big on a starting pitcher. Of all the areas on the squad, the team's 2016 rotation still arguably looked the weakest and most uncertain.
Nevertheless, even without factoring in Price's impact, there is room for optimism when looking over the team's returning crop of starters. Despite struggling for long periods last season, Red Sox starters weren't quite as bad as publicized --(a woeful bullpen was a huge and distracting problem, too. In the second half, the rotation posted the ninth-best ERA (3.97) and 11th-best FIP (3.95) in baseball.
While signing Price greatly improves the club's outlook, Boston has many reasons to expect the rest of its staff to perform far better next summer.
Perhaps most importantly, the Red Sox should field a superior defense next season. You don't need me to tell you how poor Hanley Ramirez was in left field this past year, and while his move to first base could lead to similar results, the team's outfield will at least be a strength. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Rusney Castillo are all above average, or even elite, defenders, whose abilities in the field were a large part of the squad's strong performance down the stretch.
That trio will transform Boston's outfield glovework from a weakness into an asset. It's likely no coincidence that the team's pitching output and overall play improved in the second half when Betts, Bradley, and Castillo began playing the outfield together.
In addition, one has to think Pablo Sandoval, who was so poor at third base in 2015, has a good chance of recouping some of his defensive value. Sandoval graded as an above-average fielder for much of his tenure with the Giants, and his defensive numbers rated so far below his career norms, that it's hard to imagine him playing so badly again. The veteran third baseman doesn't necessarily have to completely return to his prior levels; simply not costing the Red Sox runs on a regular basis would provide a boost.
From a pitching standpoint, Boston will also benefit from a full season of Eduardo Rodriguez on the mound. The young left-hander was the most dependable starter on the club's staff after debuting in late May and only has room to grow. At the age of 22, Rodriguez compiled an ERA+ of 112 and a 3.92 FIP, and showcased the capacity to excel against big league lineups.
After a tough first season with the Red Sox, Rick Porcello's numbers should regress back to their normal levels as well. Although the right-hander may never live up to that $20-million-a-year price tag, even a league average performance will be an upgrade on the 4.92 ERA he finished with in 2015. And, if those improved results down the stretch after a return to his sinker-balling ways prove legitimate, Boston could see a starter who pitches far better than that.
For Red Sox, David Price is no half measure
Dave Dombrowski worked no miracles this offseason. He just went out there and paid the prices necessary to get the best. And for now, that leaves the Red Sox in great position.
Lastly, the trade for Craig Kimbrel should help take pressure off just about everyone else on the pitching staff. The bullpen already looks deeper with Kimbrel slotted in as closer and Koji Uehara moving back to a set-up role, and that will take some of the onus off the starting rotation, which simply lacked the means to consistently pitch deep into games this past season. Kimbrel's arrival will give John Farrell the ability to be more aggressive from a pitching-change standpoint and the luxury of avoiding having to coax some of his starters three times through the opponent's lineup.
Given recent rumblings, moreover, Dombrowski is in the market for more bullpen help, which would only further stabilize Boston's pitching staff.
The Red Sox had every reason to want David Price atop their rotation. His signing goes a long way toward bolstering the team's hopes of returning to the postseason in 2016. Yet the yearning for an ace like Price has, in many ways, obscured the fact Boston's starting rotation was poised to improve already.
The outfield defense will be vastly better, Rodriguez will be around for a full season, and Porcello is likely in for a bounce-back campaign judging by his career to date. If the club somehow squeezed more than 100 innings out of Clay Buchholz, they might really be onto something. And, if they don't, they can turn to a now more experienced Henry Owens to fill in those blanks.
Regardless of Buchholz's health and Price's arrival, the Red Sox should be optimistic about the returning group's ability to outperform last year's disappointing results. Adding someone like Price gives Boston a legitimate hoping of winning the division title and making another run in the postseason. But how much the rest of the starting rotation will improve shouldn't be overlooked either.