Dombrowski, Red Sox need to pay the Price
Despite the risks, Boston must have a clear-cut No. 1 starter, and lefty is an ideal fit
We know the appeal of David Price, and we simultaneously know the potential pitfalls of a six- or seven-year commitment to a starting pitcher -- or any player, really -- who has already blown out the candles on his 30th birthday cake. But as the Hot Stove market takes shape in the leadup to a Winter Meetings that will take place in Price's backyard, for one team, in particular, the appeal outweighs the pitfalls by a wide margin.
The Boston Red Sox can't let this guy get away.
Look, I get why the Sox tried to go the safe and sane route last year when Jon Lester hit the open market (though they likely could have kept him had they not lowballed him when he was still under contractual control). I get why, in a time of such pitching prominence, they felt they could piece together an effective, albeit not overpowering, rotation in which outs could be accumulated by worm-burning ground balls. I even think there were points in 2015 when the disastrousness of said rotation was overstated by some.
But we can all safely agree -- in the wake of another last-place finish and a major front-office regime change from Ben Cherington to Dave Dombrowski -- that a starting-pitching stance that prioritized "savvy" over straight spending did not work. And while going all-in on Price might very well prove to be an overcorrection in the long run, the Red Sox are in the wrong market to play it safe any longer.
It is widely expected that for the Red Sox to become the rare team to entice a top-of-the-market starting pitcher to stay in the American League rather than defect to the National League, they're going to have to overwhelm Price with their offer, much the same way the rival Yankees did with CC Sabathia seven years ago.
Overwhelm away, Dave.
Dombrowski was brought to Boston to make the kind of deal he did for Craig Kimbrel and to make the kind of deal he's increasingly expected to make for Price. This is not a man inclined to make minor moves, and this is a club well-positioned, both with the depth of its pockets and the readiness of its roster, to think big. In a ravenous sports town like Boston, any afterglow of the Red Sox's 2013 run -- a run attained largely on the weight of Cherington's ability to unload an onerous Carl Crawford contract to set up short-term, high-reward free-agent spending -- has been eclipsed by the ignominy of the club's flops in 2014 and '15.
For all their recent faults, the Red Sox have the distinct ability to field an AL East favorite, but they can't do it without a clear No. 1. And with Jordan Zimmermann reportedly off the board, Johnny Cueto rating as too risky, Zack Greinke highly unlikely to give up his bat or the warm weather that suits him so well, and the trade market for an ace-type likely to command a starting price of Xander Bogaerts or Mookie Betts, Price is the only No. 1 that makes perfect sense for them. He's succeeded in the rigors of the AL East, he's been consistent and durable and consistently durable, and in personality, presence and performance he's about as marketable an asset as his position provides.
Put Price atop a rotation featuring Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley, and you won't be accused of any embellishment in which No. 3s are cast as 2s or 2s as 1s, etc. Dombrowski would also be free to explore the trade value of those guys or depth options like Henry Owens and Joe Kelly. The Red Sox also wouldn't be coughing up a Draft pick as compensation, because Price, as a result of being traded by Dombrowski out of Detroit last summer, is untethered in that regard.
Worried about a rift with David Ortiz? Pfft. Ortiz knows as well as anyone that this team needs a horse atop the rotation.
Worried about Price's postseason history? Always prioritize the 1,441-inning sample over the 63-inning sample. The Red Sox need to worry about getting to October first, and Price is the guy who can get them there.
Worried about the luxury-tax threshold? A more valid concern, no doubt, but perhaps Dombrowski could get creative in the trade market with Buchholz, Miley or Porcello (moving Hanley Ramirez still rates as a pipe dream, but who knows?).
Sabathia is perfect proof of the good and the bad that comes with a gargantuan commitment to a pitcher of this ilk. The front half of CC's Yankees tenure was everything they expected it to be. In his first four years in the Bronx, Sabathia turned in north of 900 regular-season innings, delivered an ERA+ 35 percent better than the league norm, and -- oh, yeah -- helped the Yanks win the World Series in 2009. The bill has come the past three years, as the big man's effectiveness has waned, his body has betrayed him and his statistics have taken a nasty slide. (The issue is, of course, exacerbated by the opt-out clause Sabathia capitalized on after 2011, leading to another year and another $30 million being tacked onto the initial seven-year, $161 million commitment.)
Much as we love Price, it's not hard to envision him enjoying/enduring a similar arc (though it must be noted that he's accumulated 685 1/3 fewer regular-season innings in advance of his age-30 season than did Sabathia, who debuted at age 20 -- three years younger than Price at his debut). If the bidding for Price really does eclipse $200 million (as it did, in large part because of the deftness of deferred payments, with Max Scherzer a year ago), the signing team would understand that it is investing heavily in the front half of the deal before holding on for dear life on the back half.
But the Red Sox need Price for that front half. They need him for the front of their rotation. The Winter Meetings begin in a week, and Price, a notable Nashvillian, will be the talk of the Opryland. The Red Sox need to be the ones doing the most serious talking.