David Price's seven-year, $217 million deal is a record for the Red Sox and for a pitcher. It's of a size that will stop them from spending possibly anything else for 2016, but that's okay: the 2016 roster is already set as far as notable financial commitments go. They could use a fifth outfielder and maybe another reliever, and Price won't keep them from that.
The concern for the kind of deal that Price signed is what impact it will have on future spending. For Price, he's going to be taking up $31 million per year, both from John Henry's pockets and against the luxury tax threshold. With the way the Red Sox' future spending is structured, though, even that huge number shouldn't be a problem.
During the three seasons that Price is guaranteed to be with the Red Sox, they have significant financial obligations already in place. The 2016 payroll is already at $189 million even without considering the pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players on the roster. The 2017 budget already has $158 million promised to it under the same setup ($171 million if Clay Buchholz's option is picked up), and 2018 is at $123 million.
There is very little the Sox have to spend on during those next two winters, though: as so much of the roster is either signed long-term or is still under their original team control. This is not to say there are no holes to be filled -- David Ortiz will retire after 2016 and both Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa will be free agents -- but their salaries can also be used to help bring in their replacements (or in the case of Tazawa, maybe even just re-sign him).
It's during the years Price is not guaranteed to be with the Sox that our focus should be on. If Price is so great from 2016 through 2018 that he opts out of the remaining four years and $124 million on his deal and heads elsewhere, then obviously he is not going to be any kind of drag on Boston's finances from 2019 through 2022. Losing Price would hurt, of course, but the Sox would also have an extra $31 million per year to play with to try to replace him.
If Price does not go elsewhere, either because he's not quite good enough to justify walking away from $124 million guaranteed or the Sox re-up him for a couple more years post opt-out, he's still not going to be an impediment to additional spending. It's not because money has no meaning to the Red Sox anymore or anything like that. It has to do with the timing of the four last years of Price's deal.
Hanley Ramirez's contract ends after 2018, with a vesting option for 2019 coming into play only if he amasses 1,050 plate appearances between 2017 and 2018. So, the Red Sox will either be able to walk away from Hanley and find his replacement, or they'll have one more year of him because he was healthy and productive enough to stay on the field for two years, and therefore won't need to spend for a replacement. If he stays, Boston has roughly $120 million in obligations for that year, and $98 million if he does not.
Pablo Sandoval's last guaranteed season is 2019. If his option is declined for 2020, he'll still be paid $5 million, but the Sox will be off the hook for the rest, and their commitments will be just $64 million. The 2019 season is also the final one for Rick Porcello's extension, hence the dramatic drop in spending. It also happens to be the final year of arbitration for Xander Bogaerts -- Bogaerts will need a significant pay raise to stick around either through a pre-free agency extension or on free agency at the same time that Boston's obligations all but vanish, relatively speaking. And that's even with Price's $31 million for 2020 in the mix.
Signing Price early gives Sox time to make trades
It's not about having too many pitchers. If Dave Dombrowski makes a trade now, it's because he has the time to do so, and the insurance of having a completed team if they can't pull anything off.
Let's say the back-end of Price's deal is a disaster for the Red Sox. It's still not keeping them from doing anything on the financial side, given the timing of the exits of Ramirez, Sandoval, and Porcello. It's not something to just be ignored -- there is real risk in a long-term deal of this size, and Price still needs to take up a roster spot and soak up resources that could be used elsewhere. However, you can't get these first few years of Price in his early 30s, when he's the best available pitcher in a market full of dominance, without agreeing to take on the riskier ones.
Considering that, the Red Sox are in about as good of a position as you can be for someone who just spent over $200 million on a pitcher. They have the youth to help carry them through the present and possibly the future, too -- Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, and Eduardo Rodriguez are already here, and they are likely soon to be joined by the likes of Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi. When that youth starts to get expensive, the current expensive players will be gone, and in some cases, already replaced internally.
Want to dream bigger than internal replacements and the promise of youth? Maybe consider another mega-deal and whether there will be room for it when the opportunity comes? Bryce Harper is a free agent in 2019. The Red Sox will be under $100 million in obligations that year if Hanley is gone, and it will be the final season of Sandoval and Porcello. When it takes at least a 10-year, $350 million deal to sign the still-just-26-years-old Harper, the Sox will have the space to do so even with Price.
Will they have the desire? That's four years from now, so don't even try to guess. The point is that the room should be there, even with Price on board, to sign possibly the most significant free agent of the decade. Price's massive deal won't inhibit Boston's flexibility at the time they will once again need it, whether in terms of retaining the progressively costlier youth or adding brand new stars. That's about all you can ask for out of the back-half of a contract as large as this one.