By: Marisa Ingemi
“The Boston Red Sox need an ace.” The narrative had been spoken many times since a year ago when the club lost Jon Lester to the Chicago Cubs. That same narrative continued to be repeated when manager John Farrell stated the team boasted “five aces”, and once again when the pieced-together rotation continued to falter throughout yet another anemic season of Red Sox baseball.
The Boston Red Sox needed an ace. That sentence can now be past-tense, because they have that ace.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Red Sox made the first big splash of the baseball off season when they signed left handed pitcher David Price. The former Tampa Bay Ray, Detroit Tiger, and Toronto Blue Jay was tabbed by the Red Sox for seven years and $217 million, the most a pitcher has ever been paid. Clayton Kershaw, the ace lefty of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is signed for $215 million, making him the previous record holder.
Price does have an opt out after three years of the seven year contract, similar to the deal Zack Greinke just opted out of with the Dodgers just this off season. The opt-out offers the Red Sox at least a little bit of protection, even though the player has the option to leave compared to the team. However, if Price were to opt out, it would be the best case for the Red Sox. It would mean that he had three solid years with Boston and would be confident enough to seek a better deal, and then potentially be overpaid for his worse years.
— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) December 1, 2015
The St. Louis Cardinals were the silver-medal winners of the bidding, coming in second place in the race for ace lefty. Some reports indicated that the Red Sox blew away the Cardinals offer by $30 million, raising the stakes of the deal on Tuesday morning. According to the Boston Globe, who broke the story of the signing, the Red Sox were also in the midst of negotiations with Greinke before they officially signed Price Last season between two teams Price went 18-5 with 225 strikeouts in 220 innings pitcher. Price is a pitcher who has been able to go deep into game and has remained mostly injury free over his entire career. In his career overall, Price has a solid 3.09 earned run average and averages 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
Price, who made his major league debut with Tampa Bay, has spent his entire career in the American League. After being the first overall pick in 2007 out of Vanderbilt, he made his Major League debut the next season, being a trailblazer in the trend of players reaching the majors much earlier than they used to. He was traded to the Tigers at the 2014 MLB trade deadline in a three-team trade with the Seattle Mariners, and was shipped to Toronto at the 2015 deadline. Ironically, he was traded away by Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, who is now the president of the Red Sox. He was fired just days later after disagreeing with the organization about the Tigers being out of contention.
Boston was a last place team in 2015 for the third time in four seasons. Pitching was a well-documented issue, with struggles from Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, and Clay Buchholz. Rookies Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens showed flashes of being potential major league pitchers, but the lack of depth down the line was a long term issue. Relief pitcher Craig Breslow was starting games in September and they brought back Rich Hill, who recently signed a deal with the Oakland Athletics. The rotation for 2016 and beyond takes shape with Price leading the way. Behind him it remains unclear, with Buchholz in a contract year likely set to be the #2 starter, and then Kelly who was much improved in the second half of 2015. However, Miley and Porcello both had their struggles throughout the season and inconsistency can be expected.
The starting pitching staff’s ERA of 4.31 in the regular season was the second worst in the American League despite the club having the fourth most runs scored. Where Price will benefit the Red Sox the most is the strikeout department, something the team struggled with last season. Kelly has strikeout potential with a fastball that can exceed 97 miles per hour, but after him they lack power pitching, which has been the cornerstone of successful teams the past few seasons. Buchholz has never been a power pitcher, and Miley and Porcello are both best when they generate groundballs. Price brings a true top-of-the-rotation talent that can at the least be a stopper even if the rest of the rotation lacks.
This is the exact move that Dombrowski can be expected to make. Unlike previous Red Sox general managers Ben Cherington and Theo Epstein, Dombrowski has no problem giving multi-millions to players into their late 30s, as this Price deal will do. After all, he did sign Miguel Cabrera to his mega-deal in Detroit. Don’t believe that Dombrowski is done, either. He previously made the biggest trade of this off season when he traded away four prospects to the San Diego Padres for closer Craig Kimbel, resetting the market for the relief pitching trade market. The St. Louis Cardinals have considered moving their closer Trevor Rosenthal just because of the return they saw in San Diego.
There is still speculation of the Red Sox adding another starting pitcher. Johnny Cueto remains on the market and connected to Boston, while the Red Sox also have plenty of assets they would be able to move. After signing outfielder Chris Young earlier this week there remains the possibility of moving Jackie Bradley Jr, who has been connected to the trade market in the past. He could potentially be a chip in a deal moving forward to add to the rotation.
Sources: Sox payroll above $189M for ’15, so they’ll be hit with 30% tax in 2016. Price a luxury item in every sense https://t.co/AWQTNroNCO
— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) December 2, 2015
The philosophy of the Red Sox is radically different than just one winter ago when Boston refused to sign Lester for $155 million when he signed with Chicago. Price, the same age that Lester was when he signed that deal, eclipses that signing by more than $50 million. This signing is the best example of the change in Red Sox leadership with Larry Lucchino and Cherington gone and Dombrowski running the show along with new GM Mike Hazen and assistant GM Frank Wren, the former general manager of the Atlanta Braves.
Another sign of change in the Red Sox front office is the fact that before the Price signing, the most money the Red Sox had ever given a starting pitcher was the $82 million deal given to Porcello before the start of 2015. Dombrowski traded Porcello to Boston before last season in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes, who himself is currently a free agent.
With the Red Sox adding so much more money onto their books, and definitely risking luxury tax territory, it has to be wondered if the team would be shopping Hanley Ramirez. Just a week after it was reported Ramirez would be playing winter ball, rumors began to swirl that the left fielder turned first baseman was on the trade market. The experiment of Hanley in the outfield was an utter disaster, and since Travis Shaw proved more than capable of manning first base, getting even half of Ramirez’s contract off the books would alleviate some of the money it took to sign Price.
#RedSox, after improving offer to Price this morning, wanted answer from him before deciding whether to shift to Greinke or other pursuits
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 2, 2015
In fact, the Red Sox could even look to trade another starter. Being in the last year of his deal, Buchholz could be an attractive pitcher for a National League team. It has even been suggested that Miley, who has historically pitched around 200 innings, could be shipped back to the NL. Kelly is also set to become a free agent after this season and therefore could have value.
One of the interesting dynamics of this trade remains how it shapes the rest of the free agent market moving forward. When Jordan Zimmermann signed a five year, $110 million deal with the Tigers, his annual average of $22 million per year seemed slightly below market. After all, pitchers are paid so much more than they were even five years ago, and Zimmermann was one of the more in-demand pitchers. Zimmermann signing first did not set the free agent market ablaze, however, as the first major signing usually would. Since that signing did not set the market, the Price acquisition is likely too.
The speculation on Zack Greinke has heightened since Price signed with Boston and it is expected that he will sign at the end of the week, either returning to the Dodgers or signing with the rival San Francisco Giants. At this point, Greinke would be looking to eclipse the $217 million Price signed for, which is the all-time record for any pitcher. Greinke isn’t the only top-tier pitcher remaining on the market, either. Cueto remains a curious free agent because of the variables involved. After being traded from Cincinnati to the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals, Cueto struggled at times while also showing some flashes of excellence in the post season. Speculation around Cueto has been difficult to follow and it might be left to infer he will sign after Greinke is gone.
Worth noting: Price is 49-21 with a 3.17 ERA vs. AL East. That includes 16-2, 2.41 ERA vs Toronto
— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) December 2, 2015
The Price signing also affects the trade market greatly for pitchers. For teams who miss out on Price, Greinke, and Cueto and still need a pitcher, the trade market remains the only option. Shelby Miller of the Atlanta Braves has been the most popular name to be moved and they are currently asking for prices as much as AJ Pollock of the Arizona Diamondbacks. With a cost that steep, they might just get a player of that caliber if prices for free agents remain the way they are.
After being traded to Toronto this past summer, Price put up a 2.30 ERA along with a 9-1 record. Price was a major part of post season baseball returning to Canada, but now the Jays are without the top prospects they gave up, without Price, and without a World Series title. The signing of Price in Boston changes the direction of the American League East and shifts the balance of power from the division winners to the cellar dwellers of Boston; it just remains to be seen how it translates from on paper to on the field.