Boston Red Sox agree to deal with David Price


The Boston Red Sox have agreed to terms on a lucrative deal with free agent pitcher David Price.

Dave Dombrowski got his man. The Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations took the job intent on making waves to overhaul a roster that has finished last in the division in each of the past two seasons. He started by bolstering the bullpen with an elite arm to use in the ninth inning, then added a bit of outfield depth to the bench. Now he’s made the biggest splash of all to fill the team’s most vital need.

The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham reports that the Red Sox have agreed to terms on a 7-year, $217 million with free agent starting pitcher David Price. It’s the largest deal ever given to a pitcher, beating the contract the Los Angeles Dodgers gave to Clayton Kershaw by $2 million.

Price had long been considered the top target of Dombrowski in a market that includes several high-profile starters. The left-handed pitcher has spent his entire career in the American League and is AL East tested, having started his career with the Tampa Bay Rays and wrapping up this past season with the Toronto Blue Jays. In between those two stops he spent parts of two seasons with the Detroit Tigers after Dombrowski, who was the team’s GM at the time, traded for him mid-way through the 2014 season.

The former first overall pick in the 2007 draft is 104-56 with a 3.09 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 in his career. Price is coming off of a season in which he led the league with a 2.45 ERA and finished as the runner-up in the Cy Young award race. His mid-season move to Toronto helped fuel the Blue Jays to a division title and a spot in the postseason for the first time in 22 years. The Red Sox haven’t had a drought quite that long, but it sure feels like it. The hope is that Price will help lead them back to the promised land.

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After the Red Sox failed to bring back Jon Lester last winter they attempted to get away with a collection of middling starters, assuming that their offense would be enough to carry them. That plan backfired on an embarrassing level, leaving Dombrowski no choice but to go all in on acquiring an ace to anchor the rotation. He certainly wasn’t going to risk making the same mistake as his predecessor.

The signing of Price is a significant detour from the philosophy that ownership has followed in recent years that had a fairly strict aversion to long-term deals for pitchers over 30. While the Red Sox have never been afraid to spend money, it’s uncommon for them to spend much on a free agent pitcher. Price’s deal dwarfs the 5-year, $82.5 million deal that the Red Sox handed free agent John Lackey in 2009, as well as the 4-year, $82.5 million extension given to Rick Porcello shortly after they traded for him last spring.

Is this lucrative contract a massive overpay for a pitcher unlikely to hold anywhere near his current value by the end of the deal? Probably, but given the rumors that Price’s preference was to bolt for the pitcher-friendly National League, the Red Sox had to give Price an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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Price will be 37 by the end of this deal, which is about two years beyond the point where elite starting pitchers tend to fall off a cliff, with rare exception. Even if Price’s contract becomes an albatross in the final year or two of the deal, he should be able to provide enough value on the front end to still be worth it.

In 2015 Price was worth 5.9 WAR, which equates to about a $30-36 million value on the free agent market. The $31 million average annual value of his contract may even make him a slight bargain in the first few years of the deal if he continues to pitch at his current level, which helps makes up for the decline years.

Also worth noting is that Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal revealed that Price’s deal includes a three-year opt out. If Price jumps back into free agency after the 2018 season in hopes of securing one more mega-deal at age 33, the Red Sox could conceivably let him go and avoid the tail end of the contract when those decline years could come into play.

There were other potential front line starters available, some of which would have come with a much cheaper price tag, but the Red Sox weren’t willing to settle for anything less than the best. Zack Greinke is the only other available free agent starter in the same stratosphere as Price, but signing him would mean coughing up their unprotected first-round draft pick. Since Price was traded mid-season, he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer from Toronto.

Signing Price not only fills the team’s most significant void, it also weakens a division rival. With the former Cy Young winner switching sides, the Red Sox are now poised to challenge the Blue Jays for the top spot in the AL East. You can say that the Red Sox overpaid, but one could counter that they didn’t have a choice.

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Dombrowski was hellbent on finding an ace and he managed to walk away from the free agency table with his top choice. Mission accomplished.