Boston Red Sox get better deal among top free agent pitchers


David Price and Zack Greinke are both making boatloads of money, but by acting first the Boston Red Sox were able to get a better deal for their ace.

The Boston Red Sox made history when the handed free agent pitcher David Price a 7-year, $217 million deal that made him the highest paid pitcher ever on an average annual basis. Records are made to be broken, but Price didn’t end up hanging on to his for very long. Mere hours after the Red Sox held a press conference to introduce their new ace, news broke that the Arizona Diamondbacks had agreed to a 6-year, $206 million deal with Zack Greinke.

Now Greinke holds that record. While the total value of Price’s deal is still higher, the 32-year old Greinke’s deal ends one year earlier, pushing his average annual earnings to a staggering $34.3 million that easily trumps the $31 million per year the Red Sox will pay Price.

By moving quickly to sign Price the Red Sox did themselves a favor in getting ahead of the market. Armed with the leverage of knowing how much Greinke is making, Price could have squeezed a few million more out of owner John Henry’s wallet. Price may not have matched Greinke’s average annual value on a 7-year deal, but you have to figure he’d come close considering the 30-year old will still be younger than Greinke when their respective deals end.

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In a market loaded with potential top of the rotation options, Price was the only one that could match the value of Greinke. They each led their respective leagues in ERA, while finishing as the runner-up in the Cy Young race. Both have also previously take home that bit of hardware in the past. While Greinke’s major league-leading 1.66 ERA seemingly puts him in another league from the still impressive 2.45 ERA that Price posted, the fact is that they did pitch in different leagues, with Greinke calling home to a pitcher-friendly park where he got to face the weaker lineups of the National League. Price’s career 126 ERA+, which is adjusted for park and league factors, is slightly better than Greinke’s 123 ERA+.

Another factor that makes Price more appealing is that he won’t cost the Red Sox their first-round draft pick due to the fact that he was traded mid-season and therefore couldn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Toronto Blue Jays. Arizona will be forced to cough up the No. 13 overall pick as part of the deal to get Greinke. The Red Sox No. 12 overall pick is also unprotected, so had they chased Greinke instead then they would have paid a slightly steeper price in sacrificing the highest draft pick ever surrendered for signing a free agent under the current system.

Price’s contract includes an opt-out clause that he can trigger after three years, allowing him to jump back into free agency at age 33. Greinke had a similar clause in his last contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which allowed him to make significantly more money than what was left on his original deal. Between what he’s already been paid by the Dodgers and what he’ll now earn with the Diamondbacks, Greinke has essentially worked himself into a 9-year, $282 million deal. Price must be eyeing a similar outcome, which he’ll almost certainly capitalize on as long as he continues to be successful over the next three years in Boston.

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While this clause is intended to work in the pitcher’s favor, it can also help the Red Sox. If there were any reason to be hesitant about the deal Boston gave Price it’s the concern that he may regress over the last few years of the contract and no longer be worth this kind of money by the time he’s 37 years old. If Price does opt out then it doesn’t mean the Red Sox need to be the ones to lavish him with another lucrative deal. They may let someone else assume the risk on an aging pitcher and be content with having already paid him for three years where Price was still in his prime.

That’s essentially what the Dodgers did with Greinke. They would have loved to retain him and certainly have the deep pockets to have been able to afford it, but they drew a line in the sand with a 5-year offer and were willing to let him walk if he demanded a longer deal. Three years from now the Red Sox may find themselves in the same position.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski’s familiarity with Price from their time together with the Detroit Tigers made the lefty his top target from the start, but putting aside cost and draft pick compensation, Price is the better fit for Boston anyway. Greinke would still be successful in the American League, having captured a Cy Young award in 2009 while pitching for the Kansas City Royals, but Price is AL East tested. His career numbers are spectacular in each of the ballparks in this division, but none more so than Fenway Park, where he owns a career 1.95 ERA over 11 starts. Price also brings added value to the table as a leader and beloved teammate everywhere he goes, with the personality to handle a city like Boston.

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There’s no doubt that these two stars are among the elite pitchers in the game and would thrive just about anywhere. With their talent basically being about even, you have to like the deal the Red Sox gave Price better than the one Greinke received. Boston set the market by acting first and ultimately saved some money by doing so.