Did the Red Sox Make the Right Move With David Price?

When I read the news on Tuesday that David Price was going to sign with the Boston Red Sox for a nearly unbelievable $217 million over 7 years, I didn’t know quite how to handle it, at first.  The first thought that came to mind once I cleared my head was not about the money, but how the relationship would be in the clubhouse between Price and the Red Sox senior man, and 3-time World Series Champion, David Ortiz.  They have some history, after all.  Then I considered the type of teammate that Ortiz has been throughout his career, and decided that he would find a way to get past Price’s punk attitude.  Provided, of course, that Price delivers.  If he doesn’t, and Ortiz doesn’t break him in two, I’d be disappointed.

Once I had assuaged my thoughts that everything would be alright, as long as the Sox were winning, I thought back on my thoughts about how the Red Sox should proceed heading in to the 2016 season.  Especially in light of the fact that it was to be Ortiz’s last big league season.  My words then, regarding the Sox pitching prospects in 2016 were:

Perhaps the safest option for the Red Sox both in the here and now, and for their future concerns would be to bring back old friend John Lackey.  The deal would reunite Lackey and Ortiz, provide stability to the rotation, and allow for Lackey to stick it in my face one more time about how dependable a starter he actually can be.  A rotation of Kelly, Buchholz, Lackey, Rodriguez, and Porcello may not get fans all in a tizzy, but it’s not far off from the 2013 staff.  Buchholz played leading man that season, up until June 8th.  After that, he didn’t make another start until September 10th because of injuries.  Jon Lester finished the season at 15 – 6, Felix Dubront at 11 – 6, Lackey 10 -13, and Ryan Dempster 8 – 9. These were the the top 5 starters for the Sox during a World Championship season.

A dominant starter makes things easier, but in today’s game, it’s not a necessity.  With the offensive attack the Red Sox have, they need only to have their starters keep them in the game.

As most people know, I have not been a huge Lackey fan for most of his career, but he’s changed my mind over the last several seasons.  Even at 2/$30 million, or 2/$40 million, he wouldn’t have been an anchor for the Sox going forward.  Either he helped them along, or he’d be gone soon enough.

It was at that moment of reflection that I paused to consider exactly how mammoth and ridiculous Price’s 7 year deal with the Red Sox is.  At $31 million on average, he becomes the highest paid pitcher in baseball history.  If that at the same time would also make him the game’s greatest pitcher, that would be a fair trade-off.  However, it’s not my money, or anyone else’s money1Directly.  Of course all money comes from fans in one form or another through higher ticket prices, increased cable/satellite charges, memorabilia, etc..  Red Sox ownership has the right to spend their cash as they see fit.

However, as a fan, I’m concerned with the thought that Price can opt out after 3 years if he wants to seek another big money contract.  I’m actually okay with that part of the arrangement.  In fact, it’s what I’m hoping for.  What I’m not okay with is if Price turns in 3 middling to above average seasons, and then the Red Sox are still on the hook for another 4/$124 million.  This seems like a very strong possibility to me, especially in light of his workload over the last several seasons, and the fact that his money is already made and guaranteed.  This was a wicked big mistake by the Red Sox to not get some kind of protection against an imploding David Price.  It seems that somewhere in there, a requirement for pitching well in the post-season would have been demanded.

Trying to pull myself out of the funk of the Red Sox possibly making a mistake that could haunt the franchise until the 2023, I turned to social media and asked my baseball friends what their thoughts were.  Below are selected replies, along with my thoughts paired up with them.

First up, stalwart reader Rich Mahoney had this to say:

It seems the Sox brass have either taken a different tack in their philosophy since low balling Lester last year or they felt his skills were diminishing. Although Price is the seemingly better pitcher, it seems 7 years @ 31 mil/yr and with a player option out after 3 yrs is a risky gambit. Dombrowski says they’re likely done after getting a #1, a closer, and a 4th outfielder. I’m not sure that makes them a contender in the AL, maybe in the east. For all the talk about trading Hanley, I always thought they got him back to be Ortiz’s replacement @ DH. Now that Papi has announced his impending retirement, I would think they would hold on to HanRam and just try to unload the Panda on some dupes. Or vice versa if Ramirez is unsalvageable.

Reading those words did nothing to soothe the ache in my heart, or in my mind that this deal might not be in the Red Sox best interests.  Outside of holding on to one of either Fat or Fragile, Mahoney’s thoughts lined up to closely to my own.  I considered calling Dave Dombrowski directly, to air our mutual concerns, but figured I’d wade through others’ ideas, first.

Next up was Josh Flagner, who knows a thing or two about sport in general, and baseball in particular.  He’s also a voice from outside the general New England area, and can be counted on to bring insight in to the discussion.  His words were of little comfort:

Comments about inflated salaries aside, it feels foolish to think one pitcher fixes that Boston rotation. If Boston were in that fabled ‘one guy away’ range, this would make a lot more sense.

His words nearly pushed me over the edge.  Could it be that my beloved Red Sox had once again thrown a big pile of money at a player just so they could placate the local media and vociferous fan base?  To read an ‘outsider’s’ thoughts that this could be true made me wonder if the Dave Dombrowksi era was going to be all that different.  It seems as if the course has been set for the Red Sox to continue down the road that has been set by baseball’s money problem.

I delved further, and came up with thoughts from both my brother,who like Pat Hack is a Yankees’ fan, and Mike Pellegrino.  My brother noted, among other things that:

They had to do it. Best scenario for Sox is he kills it for 3 years and then opts out.

Of course, he had to add on with:

He has a mid 3s ERA vs A.L. East. Remove his domination vs Red Sox and it ticks closer to 4. Yankees do fairly well vs him, as do the blue jays…and he’s thrown a ton of innings the past 5 years. We’ll see if the Boston media affects him. But, all good money spent if it wins a World Series. That’s all that matters anyways.

The first positive comments, and of course, they come from a Yankees’ fan.  IF (and it’s a gigantic IF) Price can lead the Red Sox to a world Series title in the next season or two, then I couldn’t care less about anything else.  If, however, he’s simply along for the ride whilst others do the work, this deal still sucks.  If he sucks, and the Red Sox suck, and they can’t do anything about it for the next 7 years, I may have to start watching the NBA again2I’m just kidding.  Even though the NBA’s credibility has soared past the NFL’s in recent times, I’m still not buying in to a league that insists on putting players in front of franchises..

Mike came in with the thought that this deal is the Red Sox’s version of C.C. Sabathia.  That would be a scary enough thought even without CC’s recent jaunt in to rehab.  Power pitchers who don’t adapt, and whose names aren’t Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson do not tend to age as well as control pitchers like Greg Maddux, for instance.  While Price is not old, he will be long before this contract expires, and he is an old 30 by modern baseball standards.  It’s just one more thing to give me nightmares about before the start of the 2016 season.  Craig Tellerd chipped in with this quip, regarding C.C.:

Ask the Yankees how that worked out with Sabathia.

That is the absolute downside to this deal.  If Price chooses to stay the course for all 7 years, there’s nothing the Red Sox can do, except hope he is injured and that whatever insurance company is covering this contract picks up the tab.  Let’s move on, before I become disheartened.

Pete Maserati had this to add:

I like the move because there’s a DESPERATE need for pitching and he can potentially be the ace of this staff, as long as he remains healthy. 7 years might be a little long, but someone else was going to give him that so it might as well be the Red Sox. It’s not like they can’t afford it…

A genuine source of revenue (Fenway is a cash cow, as is NESN, the Red Sox controlled regional sports network.) allows for Sox management to take risks that other franchises might not have the opportunity to do.  This is not always a good thing, as I’ve noted previously.  The 2014 off-season is testament to what happens when people who aren’t looking to do anything but make a splash on the back pages of the paper have too much money to spend.

On to more thoughts from other people:

Craig Rivest, of the pop-punk super band No Intention came in with these thoughts:

Is it a lot of money? Yes. Is it a long time? Yes. Do I like it? Hell yes! Figure Price is 30, he’s probably got 4 good years left, so there’s 3 down years, in which his leadership and off field work ethic will be his role and not his performance at that point. He’s not an injury riddled player, why should we assume he will be now? The Sox didn’t give up any valuable players to get Price, only John Henry’s money. Which in the grand scheme of things is key to building a championship team. We have good players who are starters now, most of which were only prospects a year or two ago, which means we have high talent at a low monetary value. The Sox have money, let them spend it to mix in seasoned MLB pitchers in with the rookies and under-achievers who need role models and someone to model themselves after other then basket-case Clay.

Rivest’s words are heartening, to say the least.  The key thing is that no prospects, or players of any sort were given up to acquire Price.  While I may not believe that Henry’s purse can forever expend these type of deals, if he hadn’t agreed to pay Fat and Fragile last off-season, to say nothing of signing off on a Porcello extension before Porcello threw a pitch for the Red Sox, he’d be a heckuva lot richer than he already is, which is saying something.  Despite Price’s noted failures in the post-season, and despite his smarmy attitude, he is someone that has the ability to carry a team, and help give direction to the young arms the Sox have.

Jon Adams countered Rivest’s point with his own thoughts about Price’s potential durability:

I personally think he’s gonna break down after 2 years and the Sox will be stuck with 4-5 years of an average pitcher. The main issue is we need pitching badly and someone else would have made him an offer and now you’re looking at the next guy on the list who may have already signed. Sometimes you have to take what you can get when you can get it. I hope he has a stellar run in Boston and wish him the best, but he’s no spring chicken and the older guys look to PEDs to stay on top. I’d hate to see another A-roid deal.

This ties in well with what my brother said, and others have as well – when you’re as desperate as the Sox are for pitching, you’re going to pay, and perhaps even overpay for a known quantity.  If that known quantity delivers, who cares about the money?  If not, let the bellyaching commence when Grienke puts up another sterling season in 2016.

The closing guest thoughts go to one Andy Gould3Who I continue to push to get his own MTAF column, with no degree of success.  His thoughts should have been their own separate column, on reflection.  We’re already running over 2,000 words here.  Alas. who had this to say about the deal for the Boston Red Sox:

From a money standpoint, the absolute best scenario that could happen is David Price pitches like David Price for 3 years and then Greinke’s himself out of the contract and Sox are off the hook. You don’t get Price now unless you pay ‘Price-money’ now.

From a personal standpoint, I dislike Price. All he’s ever done is talk down about the Sox and he’s only here (instead of with the Cards) because of money. We’re sports fans, and we essentially root for laundry, but signing players I dislike and then now rooting for them is probably my least favorite part of the game. The Astros, the Mets, the Royals are widely homegrown teams, built from good farm systems and savvy moves. I, myself, would be okay watching a couple pedestrian seasons as we develop an amazing team of Pedroias and Mookies and Bogies turn into consistent playoff teams with chances to repeat (the Royals aren’t just going away this season either), but this market would never be satisfied with that, and I can understand why. You couldn’t justify Fenway ticket and hot dog prices like that.

So I’ll suck it up and root for yet another quarter-billionaire who won’t look quite right in my team’s jersey and hope he pitches like Pedro and try to stop wishing they hadn’t just re-signed Lester. Price is a great pitcher. A lot more than that has to go right for this team to go the distance, but this is a better start than last year for sure.

Andy’s words go straight to the heart of what I believe my biggest problem with this deal is:  I don’t like David Price as a player, and even if I don’t *know* him in real life, I’m quite confident that I wouldn’t like him there, either.  However, every 5th day when he takes the mound for the Boston Red Sox, I’m going to cheer for him like he was Pedro reinvented, and hope that he wins 25 games.  As my brother said in a conversation after all of the above comments – sometime over the next season, Price is going to throw up a monster 20 – 2 season, with a low 2s ERA, and all will seem okay with the world.

I just hope if he only has one season like that in the next three, that it comes in 2018, and he chooses to play the market and finds another team to take him in to the twilight of his career.

Also, if this move *works*, and the Boston press fawns over Dombrowski because of all the hard work he put in to make the Red Sox immediate contenders, I will vomit all over Fenway Park.  While I agree with Josh’s point above that the Red Sox in the moment are not merely one player away, I think if the core of players they have right now is utilized correctly, they can easily contend in 2016.  It’s shedding the excess that was brought in last off-season in a series of desperate moves to appease the pink-hatters that is slowing down the rebound for the Red Sox.  His signing of Price is no better than when former Sox GM Dan Duquette backed a Brinks truck up to Manny Ramirez’s agent’s house and emptied it.  It’s the absolute worst thing about sports management – he who has the most money gets the toys that he wants.

As disgusting as it is to watch as a fan of the team that *won*, I can’t even begin to imagine the chatter that is going on around the league, especially amongst MLB’s *small* market clubs.  Thank God there’s still teams like the Kansas City Royals, who manage to get it done against all odds.

 

 

References
1 Directly.  Of course all money comes from fans in one form or another through higher ticket prices, increased cable/satellite charges, memorabilia, etc.
2 I’m just kidding.  Even though the NBA’s credibility has soared past the NFL’s in recent times, I’m still not buying in to a league that insists on putting players in front of franchises.
3 Who I continue to push to get his own MTAF column, with no degree of success.  His thoughts should have been their own separate column, on reflection.  We’re already running over 2,000 words here.  Alas.