Boston Red Sox: Dave Dombrowski’s free agent dilemma


Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski is willing to go the distance to get an ace through free agency, but at what cost?

Always leave them wanting more, the ethos of the American entertainment industry and secret of its success, plunges to the depths of the issue of providing the masses with enough closure to provide consistent satisfaction. Basically, know when to walk away. I’m not sure who first came up with the concept, indeed the secret may well rest in the cryogenically frozen head of Walt Disney, but perhaps they foresaw, in their own way, the difficult decision facing the Boston Red Sox today.

Coming off two successful finishes in the basement and with the pitching staff, most notably it’s lack of a leader, being an easily recognizable aspect that needs fixing, Boston really doesn’t have a choice on how to proceed this offseason. Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski has been talking about the need for an ace at almost every given juncture, one would imagine his phone has pre-set reminders for “get an ace” every day. It’s glaringly obvious what Boston needs as much as it is glaringly obvious what Dombrowski is out to get, seemingly at any cost.

However, there is a caveat – Dombrowski can only obtain what is available. While the ideal for everybody involved would be acquiring a young, cost-controlled ace through trade, such a thing is so unheard of, and thus so unlikely, these days that I can’t picture the Dombrowski family sitting around the house phone (shaped like the David Price emoji, of course) awaiting Oakland returning the call on Sonny Gray. It just doesn’t happen, not for what the Red Sox could realistically part ways with, at least.

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That leaves free agency and, whoa boy, Dombrowski hit the motherload here. Speaking of Price, he’s out there and, as reported previously,

Boston is going all in to try and get him

. There’s also

Zack Greinke


Jordan Zimmermann


Johnny Cueto

, each of whom have been linked to the Red Sox by manager

John Farrell

as potential candidates. Potentially expensive candidates that is.

Leaving cost aside for the moment, one issue should strike a chord with Red Sox Nation and cause Principal Owner John Henry to reach for his wallet in panic – their age. Price is 30, Greinke 32, Zimmermann and Cueto 29, that’s not old, even for pitchers, but the years quickly pile up.

Taking Price as an example, as the candidate the Red Sox have tapped seemingly as their first choice. He’s 30 and pitching as good as ever. His stingy 2.45 ERA in 2015 only tells a small part of the story that really should feature his delicious K/9 of 9.19. Price is a fastball pitcher, his forte has always been his four seamer that sits (even still) around 94-95 MPH and can touch 97 on occasion. That said, this year, Price turned to his fastball a career low 53% of the time, which doesn’t surprise as the rate has decreased year on year. Holding back on his haze as he gets older allows Price to continue to pitch deep into games, as he does (career average 217 innings per season.)

This is an adjustment for Price that, for all intents and purposes, is working out successfully. Still able to throw his heater late in the count for ever-so-silly looking swings and misses, Price can sit back with his cutter, curve and most notably his changeup early on.

Dombrowski knows this too, you’d be foolish to think otherwise. But what option has he at the end of the day? Like Aliens VS Predator, whoever wins – we all lose.

But the fact that Price is having to do this is telling. Here’s a pitcher who has hit his prime and has, at even conservative estimates, little more than 3 years of true domination before a notable decline in performance may be felt. It’s not a knock on Price, it’s a fact of life, it’s something that happens to the vast, vast majority of pitchers, even the very best.

Where the problem comes in for Boston is that no top free agent starter, be it Price, Greinke, Cueto or Zimmermann, will sign up for any less than 5 years. In the case of Price and Greinke, a 7-year contract isn’t unthinkable. At the rates the Red Sox, as any team, would have to pay per year for their services (think $30 million or more for Price), that’s a lot of money hemorrhaging over a very long time when there is no guarantee of continued success and every likelihood of the opposite. Such a mammoth contract would tie up the club’s finances for years, a fact that Dombrowski knows too well as the 32 year old Justin Verlander remains under Detroit Tigers control until the end of 2019, regardless of his diminishing returns.

Or how about the classic example of New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia? The Yankees pursued Sabathia with unswerving determination in 2009, snapping him up with a (then record breaking) 7-year albatross contract at $161 million, many tens of millions of dollars more than even the next closest offer Sabathia received. We like to laugh at such insanity, because, well, Yankees, but doesn’t the narrative strike us as oddly familiar? Price too will expect a 7-year contract, will likely break records and the Red Sox are tipped to best the next offer by, you guessed it, many tens of millions of dollars.

Not that Sabathia is Price, not by any stretch of the imagination. He never had the strikeouts, sure, but he also never had the pitching acumen, the leadership qualities, the clubhouse presence and the AL East experience. Even so, and I say this as someone who would love Price in Boston, a 7-year contract potentially north of $230 million is mind blowing and perhaps we should take a step back here. That would tie up the Red Sox bottom line for some time and give less wiggle room for future moves.

Perhaps an argument could be made that one option may be worth it, that being Greinke. Greinke, at 32, is better than he’s ever been and is projected by many to take a similar path of Greg Maddux, one of the few smart and talented enough to stay evergreen. Greinke shows the signs, but carries his own question marks over signability for Boston. In the end it’s still a gamble, nonetheless. Boston Herald beat writer Scott Lauber spoke to an AL scout who praised Greinke, but still said the following:

"“I’m still very apprehensive about giving pitchers these long deals,” the AL scout said. “It’s an educated guess. You’ll get three, maybe four (good years), maybe five if they really have that pitchability. But I think it’s a foolish bet, personally.”"

Dombrowski knows this too, you’d be foolish to think otherwise. But what option has he at the end of the day? Like Aliens VS Predator, whoever wins – we all lose. Best to target the top, à la Price/Greinke, and make a run for a World Series while they still perform at their best. Even when things start to decline, there should still be a period of solidly good pitching regardless. But time waits for no man, and it’s highly unlikely, to say the least, either could see out a full 7 years without a sharp downturn in performance.

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That’s it though. The Red Sox have no option but to press forward. They need an ace and are unlikely to be traded one. The only way is free agency and the only free agents worth talking about will wear out their welcome and, ultimately, not be worth the contracts they’ll get signed to. They will get signed, make no mistake. Dombrowski will get his ace and we all will be left wanting less, not more. It’s far from ideal, but Boston really doesn’t have a choice.