Red Sox wisely avoid starting pitcher trade market


The Red Sox signed David Price to an astronomical amount of money, but trading for a starting pitcher may have come at an even greater cost.

The Boston Red Sox entered the offseason intent on finding a top of the rotation starter and were willing to shell out a whopping $217 million in order to land David Price. It’s a staggering amount of money that has some fans wondering why ownership would be willing to spend that kind of cash on any player.

Here’s why – because the cost of trading for an elite starting pitcher of that caliber would be even higher. Not in terms of money of course, since the Red Sox would naturally be targeting younger pitchers signed to bargain rates. What it would cost is a bundle of premium prospects. The Red Sox gauged both markets and wisely determined that the asking price for the available trade options was steeper than the price they would have to pay for a free agent.

Don’t believe it? Just take a look at what the Arizona Diamondbacks have done this month. At nearly $34.5 million per year, the contract they gave Zack Greinke topped the record-breaking deal the Red Sox gave Price on an average annual basis, yet nobody blinked an eye when that happened. It’s the trade they made to acquire Shelby Miller that has everyone scratching their heads.

Arizona surrendered a king’s ransom to acquire a No. 2 starter. In exchange for Miller the Atlanta Braves received shortstop Dansby Swanson, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft and already considered one of the top-10 prospects in baseball. That alone would be a hefty price, but wait, there’s more! Arizona also gave up one of their top-two pitching prospects in Aaron Blair, who was the No. 36 pick in the sandwich-round of the 2013 draft, as well as a 25-year old premium defensive outfielder that posted a 5.3 WAR last season in Ender Inciarte.

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To put that in perspective, for the Red Sox to match that type of value they would have had to give up Yoan Moncada (who many believed to be worth the approximate value of a No. 1 overall pick when the Red Sox signed him out of Cuba), a top young pitcher such as Henry Owens, as well as 2015 first-round pick Andrew Benintendi. That’s an outrageous price to pay for just about any starting pitcher.

Miller is coming off of a career year in which he posted a 3.02 ERA, increased his workload to a career-high 205.1 innings and was selected to his first All-Star appearance. He’s a good pitcher, but not in the same tier as Price or Greinke. The Red Sox aimed higher for filling the top spot in their rotation and would have been mildly disappointed to come away with Miller as their ace. He would be a strong complement to Price in the second slot in the rotation, not as an alternative to Price.

Just about everyone outside of Arizona’s front office thinks the Diamondbacks overpaid, so perhaps that’s an outlier. By looking in another direction, could the Red Sox have landed a pitcher comparable or better than Miller at a more reasonable price? Jose Fernandez is another elite young pitcher rumored to be on the trade market, but the asking price for him is even more laughable, according to a report from Peter Gammons.

"“We thought we might be able to piece something together with the Red Sox,” a Miami Marlins official told “With E-Rod (Eduardo Rodriguez), Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, Yoan Moncada and another pitcher I thought we had something that might work.”"

Sorry, but not seeing how that would work for the Red Sox. To be clear, Miami wasn’t expecting to receive all of those players in return for Fernandez, but it would have cost at least a couple of them. Teams asking for Rodriguez and Betts are the reason the Red Sox turned away from pursuing established aces like Sonny Gray and Chris Sale. They are among a few of the players that Boston’s front office considers virtually untouchable, but those are the types of players teams will ask for in a trade for their ace starters.

Given what Atlanta received for a borderline ace, who can blame them for trying?

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The Red Sox already have one of the league’s highest payrolls, but imagine how much the budget would expand if they didn’t have Betts, E-Rod, Xander Bogaerts and Blake Swihart filling key starting roles while making close to the league minimum. Eventually their salaries will rise, but the contracts of some of their expensive veterans will concurrently fall off the books while other prospects in the pipeline will be called up to continue the cycle of employing premium talent at a bargain.

Having a core of young, cost-controlled players is what allows teams like the Red Sox to splurge on expensive free agents. If Boston unloads all of their top prospects to acquire a couple of elite players then it will leave them with little left to fill other holes on the roster without settling for inferior players or spending more money in free agency to find a veteran at those positions.

It’s a delicate balance that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has masterfully accomplished. Boston needed an elite arm to add to the back end of their bullpen as well as another to anchor their rotation. The cost of acquiring Craig Kimbrel in a trade was one the Red Sox could stomach, while the jaw-dropping asking price for a top pitcher was one they could not.

Next: Red Sox smart to pass on Kenta Maeda

The Red Sox have arguably improved more than any team in baseball this offseason by checking every item from their list of priorities. Best of all, they did so while hanging on to their best young assets, realizing that sacrificing too much of the future for the good of the present is not a model for sustainable success.