The Boston Red Sox paid the price.
One year after the Red Sox opted not to overexert themselves for an ace, the organization reaffirmed its commitment to winning by reportedly agreeing to a seven-year, $217 million contract with left-hander David Price. Once official, it’ll be the richest contract given to a pitcher in Major League Baseball history.
Reviews of the deal undoubtedly will be mixed, with the final verdict not being rendered until the Red Sox see — we all see — whether Price can maintain his status as an elite starter and help the franchise rebound from its third last-place finish in four seasons. There are inherent risks involved with giving a lucrative, long-term contract to a pitcher entering his 30s, and Price, who turned 30 in August, isn’t immune to any of them.
But signing Price was a necessary evil. The Red Sox dropped the ball by not signing Jon Lester to a contract extension before (or during) the 2014 season. And they dropped it again last offseason by whiffing on Lester and not sufficiently pursuing a Plan B. The concept of masking a collection of mid-tier starters with a dynamic offense was OK in theory, but it failed to account for potential struggles at the dish, underperformance from the starters in tow and inconsistency from a punchless bullpen.
In essence, the Red Sox tried to get cute after winning the World Series in 2013, and it led them down a path of mediocrity, to put it lightly. The logic wasn’t entirely flawed — staying away from long-term free-agent contracts for pitchers has been a fruitful tactic for some other organizations — but the end result wasn’t what Boston envisioned.
The solution? A total shift in philosophy. From the day Dave Dombrowski joined the organization as the new president of baseball operations back in August, it was clear the Red Sox were less focused on finding a workaround for their pitching flaws and more focused on tackling them head on.
The Red Sox needed a major upgrade in the bullpen. They traded four top-25 prospects for lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel earlier this month.
The Red Sox needed an ace. They reportedly went all-in on Price, culminating with reports Tuesday that the five-time All-Star agreed to the seventh-richest contract in baseball history.
There’s no guarantee the new, more aggressive school of business will yield success. The champagne might remain on ice again in 2016 in spite of the Red Sox’s sudden willingness to part with prospects to improve the bullpen and their readiness to break the bank to fill the void atop their rotation. For all we know, this offseason could amount to little more than the Red Sox flexing in the mirror.
The status quo simply wasn’t working, though. And none of the Red Sox’s warts was more glaring than the absence of an ace. Missing out on Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto or another legitimate No. 1 starter wasn’t an option this offseason, especially after the missteps of the last two winters.
Dombrowski cautioned three weeks ago at the MLB General Managers Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., that any significant move was going to be “painful.” Price’s reported deal stings from a financial perspective, especially given the history of such monstrous contracts backfiring, but you know what stings worse? Four last-place finishes in five seasons.
And the Red Sox now are positioned to avoid that fate with Price — a horse, a top dog, an alpha male — reportedly coming to Boston.
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