The Boston Red Sox may be willing to pay for part of David Price’s contract in a trade but don’t expect them to surrender prospects.
The sense coming out of last week’s winter meetings is that the Boston Red Sox are focused on trading David Price. Shedding his salary remains the clearest path to their goal of dipping under the luxury tax threshold. While the front office appears motivated to move the highly-compensated lefty, they aren’t desperate enough to back themselves into a bad deal by forcing a trade at any cost.
Chad Jennings of The Athletic reports that the Red Sox will likely have to pay down Price’s salary in order to trade him but Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom has resisted the idea of attaching a prospect to sweeten the deal.
"“I don’t think we’d ever want to rule anything out,” Bloom said. “But so much of what we’re always going to be trying to accomplish, but certainly now, is to make sure we have as strong a farm system as possible.”"
A week ago, Price held the record for the most lucrative deal ever for a starting pitcher but his contract feels less onerous in the wake of the Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole signings. Paying 35+ million per year for an ace pitcher is the new norm. Price is no longer on that level but he would make a strong No. 2 starter on almost any team.
When Zack Wheeler is getting paid north of $20 million per year, it’s fair to say that Price, a far more accomplished pitcher, would be a relative bargain at a similar cost. If the Red Sox ask potential suitors to take on $20 million in each of the final three years of Price’s contract it will make him a more appealing trade target and shed enough salary from Boston’s payroll to get them near the tax threshold.
Eating a portion of his salary is far more palatable than attaching a prospect to entice a team to take Price off their hands. Convincing a team to take on his full contract would create more financial flexibility but it’s not worth it at the cost of giving up assets from their thin farm system.
The Los Angeles Angels included a prospect they selected with their 2019 first-round pick in order to dump Zack Cozart on the San Francisco Giants. Some assumed the Red Sox would need to use a similar tactic in order to get rid of Price. That’s not happening. The difference in these scenarios is that Price remains a useful player.
Cozart cashed in after his breakout 2017 season when he made the All-Star team with the Cincinnati Reds. He’s been a disaster since signing with the Angels, hitting .190 with a .557 OPS and -0.7 WAR over two seasons.
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Price may be overpaid but he still has value. He was excellent in 2018 and was one of the postseason heroes who delivered a World Series title. He was on his way to another stellar season with a 7-2 record and 3.16 ERA through 17 starts. A cyst on his wrist derailed his season and his numbers went in the tank while he tried pitching through the ailment. Price had surgery to remove the cyst so it won’t be an issue going forward.
There have been rumors about teams asking for an established player such as Andrew Benintendi in trade talks for Price. Including Benny in the deal would chip away more from their payroll without further depleting their farm system. That’s obviously not happening either. Benny is far too valuable to be thrown into a deal as a salary-saving sweetener.
The Red Sox are keeping their options open and could consider including Benintendi in a deal but only if it brings back an impressive prospect haul. He could be used to expand the deal to improve the return but they won’t use him to reward another team for taking Price’s contract.
The odds of Price being traded continue to rise but Boston won’t give him away. He’s still a very good pitcher. An overpaid one, but still a pitcher most teams could use at or near the top of their rotation. The Red Sox will be smart about it though. They won’t make a desperate salary dump and they won’t use players or prospects to essentially pay another team to take his contract.