We can dream all we want about signing an elite starting pitcher on the free agent market, but even if the Boston Red Sox are willing to spend their money they still need to find someone willing to take it. Apparently that may be easier said than done.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has made it clear that he intends to find an ace to anchor the rotation through free agency, which was his expectation even before he depleted the farm system to acquire Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres last week.
There are a number of enticing options available on the market this winter, but those options may be more limited than it appears if some of the pitchers they are interested in aren’t interested in them. That may be the case for the two brightest stars on the market, as a report from Peter Gammons indicates that both Zack Greinke and David Price would prefer to pitch in the National League.
"“There would be no better mentor or leader for this staff than Zack Greinke,” writes Gammons. “He was drafted and signed by Allard Baird. (Brian) Bannister is a very close friend, and fellow pitching scholar. But among the elements of making Greinke so great is the fact that he has won Cy Young, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards; go to the AL, instead of bringing a distinct advantage in the nine hole, he faces a DH.”"
Even if the Red Sox are willing to match any contract offer Greinke receives, NL teams can offer him something that Boston simply can’t – the chance to hit. Greinke is a career .220 hitter with a .598 OPS, which is a lot better than what most pitchers produce at the plate. It’s not too shabby compared to some of the No. 9 hitters in the AL either. A pitcher that isn’t considered an automatic out at the bottom of the lineup is an advantage Greinke loses if he were to return to the AL.
It’s hard to imagine that a team with pockets as deep as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ would let Greinke get away to begin with, considering pairing him with Clayton Kershaw to create the game’s most dominant pitching duo remains their best chance of attaining postseason glory. Even if the Dodgers do decide to go in another direction, there will be plenty of suitors from the NL lining up for his services.
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Fine, so what about Price? He’s AL East tested and he’s a pitcher that Dombrowski is familiar with, having traded for him two seasons ago while serving as the general manager for the Detroit Tigers. Price also has only recorded 2 hits in 39 career plate appearances, so the chance to hit probably isn’t a huge selling point like it would be for Greinke.
Price would be a great fit in Boston, but according to Gammons he has already told a number of NL teams that he wants to pitch for them. Price has pitched for three different teams in his career, all of which reside in the AL, but that’s not by choice. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays, then traded twice. This is his first opportunity to test the free agency waters. After years of battling several of the deepest lineups in the majors, Price may relish the chance to flee to the senior circuit, where he’ll face opposing pitchers instead of a designated hitter and take the mound in more pitcher-friendly parks.
Coors Field is perennially one of the top ballparks for scoring runs due to the thin air in Colorado, but four of the top five hitters parks this season reside in the AL, according to ESPN’s Park Factors. That top-five list includes both Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Boston’s Fenway Park, while New York’s Yankee Stadium also ranks in the top-10. Toronto’s Rogers Centre surprisingly ranked 24th this season, but the home of the Blue Jays has been in the top half of major league ballparks in Park Factors in each of the previous five seasons and has long been considered a launching pad for home run hitters. Pitching in the AL East can be brutal, so you can hardly blame pitchers like Greinke and Price for avoiding it.
The preference of each of these aces to pitch in the NL doesn’t automatically eliminate the Red Sox from consideration. Money talks, so if owner John Henry is willing to open up his wallet to overpay one of these pitchers then perhaps they can be persuaded to change their minds.
If not, at least the Red Sox can take solace in not having to face either pitcher very often if they sign with an NL team.