Friday, December 18, 2015

Boston Pays the Price

Dombrowski got his man, but at a steep price (USA Today)
It's been awhile since the Boston Red Sox spent serious money on a free agent pitcher. Their most recent multi-year, big bucks contract went to John Lackey after the 2009 season, during Theo Epstein's open-checkbook regime. Three years before that, he dropped over $100 million on Daisuke Matsuzaka. While both helped Boston to a world championship during their time with the club, neither panned out in terms of health or overall performance.Maybe that's why Epstein's successor, Ben Cherington, stayed away from big-ticket starting pitchers, especially ones over 30.

But after rolling the dice with an aceless staff last year (and finishing last again), Boston was willing to pay the price to secure a top-shelf starter. As it turned out, they were willing to shell out more for a pitcher ($216 million over six years) than anybody had ever shelled out before.

That represents quite a departure from the way Boston operated under Cherington, who's largest contract--Dustin Pedroia's extension--went for $100 million less. But then, so has everything that Dave Dombrowski has done since taking office.

It should come as no surprise that the Red Sox were the ones to land Price, given his history with Dombrowski. Dombrowski traded for Price in 2014 while general manager of the Tigers, hoping to get his team over the hump and win a championship for aging owner Mike Llitch. When they failed to do so in 2014 and sputtered last year, Dombrowski dealt Price to the Blue Jays in one of his last moves before being fired.

Now, the two have reunited in Boston, where they'll get a fresh start and another shot at a championship.

It's not hard to see why Boston--Dombrowski in particular--was so enamored with Price. The former Cy Young winner (and two-time runner-up) has been steadily terrific throughout his career, despite being traded midway through each of the last two seasons. Both times he quickly adapted to a new, more hitter-friendly environment, suggesting he shouldn't have much trouble acclimating to Fenway Park. His career numbers back this up, as he's 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 regular season starts at Fenway.

That's only one reason why Price will be a great fit in Boston. He just turned 30, which means he should still have several fine seasons ahead of him. He's durable, having logged the fourth-most innings in baseball since 2010. And he's a battle-tested AL East veteran, having spent all but one one of his eight seasons in the division. He strikes guys out, doesn't walk very many, and keeps the ball in the yard. What's not to love?

The only negative thing I can say about Price is, well, his price. The Red Sox could have acquired two great starting pitchers for what they spent on Price, as the Giants did after losing out on Zack Greinke. I would have rather seen them get any combination of Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, preferably the first two. Boston was more than one good starter away from being a contender last year, and probably still are if they don't add another starter between now and Opening Day.

Because even with Price, the rest of their rotation still looks pretty shaky. You never know what you're going to get out of Clay Buchholz, or which Rick Porcello is going to show up. 23 year-olds Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez have a combined 32 major league starts under their belts, so counting on both of them to be productive starters next year is risky. Roenis Elias could spell Wade Miley, but he's yet to complete more than 165 innings in a season.

Boston's rotation projects to be Price and a bunch of question marks. Had they spent their money more wisely, however, there could have been one less wild card to worry about.

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