In retrospect, this move was always going to happen. The Red Sox rolled into the 2015 season with a starting rotation composed of Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, and Justin Masterson. It did not go well. Masterson faded away into the ether, Joe Kelly's great stuff resulted in a 1.44 WHIP, and Porcello and Miley vomited all over their shiny new contract extensions. Only Buchholz managed to be particularly productive (2.68 FIP, 3.2 WAR) but, because he's Clay Buchholz, managed to make it only to July 10th before getting injured. Then it was the Eduardo Rodriguez show, or the Henry Owens show. Rodriguez oscillated between effectiveness and looking like a depth arm, and Owens displayed the control issues that had some prospect prognosticators worried.
Enter Dave Dombrowski. Former General Manager Ben Cherington was wary of large contracts for starting pitchers, famously lowballing Jon Lester when he offered the lefty an extension. But when Cherington's pitching staff crumbled and the contracts of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval immediately became dead weight, ownership brought in a fresh face. We know from Dombrowski's tenure in Detroit that he is not so squeamish when it comes to molding the roster in his image. He jettisoned a bushel of prospects for Craig Kimbrel, and now David Price has signed a seven-year, $217 million contract.
That deal surpasses Clayton Kershaw's salary to make Price the richest pitcher ever. Free agents are always more expensive than in-house signings, but $217 million is quite a lot of money. The contract is even more interesting because of an opt-out clause that Price can exercise after the third year. He'll earn $30 million in each of those first three seasons, $31 million in the fourth, and $32 million each season thereafter. The opt-out clause allows him to test the market once more if he feels he can better his earning power or doesn't like pitching in Boston. If he wants to maintain his financial security due to ineffectiveness or injury, he can stay in Boston and get paid.
Regardless of how he performs for the Red Sox, Price has done exceptionally well for himself. The Red Sox have also gotten themselves the ace that they desperately need if they hope to contend in 2016. Ever since his first full season in 2010, Price has been a model of ridiculous consistency. He has never been worth less than 4.2 fWAR, and his 6.4 fWAR 2015 campaign was his best yet. He failed to pass 200 IP only once in an injury-shortened 2013 campaign. He practically eats innings for lunch. His FIP lowered every season from 2010 to 2014, and he's sat at 2.78 for two seasons now. Oh, and he's left-handed.
Price is good. Price is very, very good. He knows the hitters of the AL East like the back of his hand, and he's good enough to quickly map out attack plans for any new combatants that enter the arena this winter. Yet $217 million is quite a lot of money. Did Dave Dombrowski out-Dombrowski himself this time?
It's hard to say. Our very own Steven Martano, upon learning I was writing about the Price signing, did a quick little bit of math and sent me a table of data. He claims to have done this "for fun." Marty is a bit of an odd duck so I smiled and nodded my head and asked why he was pointing his calculator at me like that. He came up with the following numbers.
|Year||Cost Of One WAR||Price Salary||Price Projected WAR||Price Market Value||Surplus Value|
|2016||$8 MM||$30 MM||5.3||$42.4 MM||$12.4 MM|
|2017||$8.4 MM||$30 MM||4.505||$37.842 MM||$7.842 MM|
|2018||$8.82 MM||$30 MM||3.8925||$33.774 MM||$3.774 MM|
|TOTAL||N/A||$90 MM||13.63425||$114.016 MM||$24.016 MM|
This is the first three years of Price's contract with Boston. It assumes a 5 percent inflation in the value of one WAR on the open market each offseason and a 15 percent degradation in Price's production each year. The initial projection of 5.3 WAR uses the Steamer projections found on FanGraphs. Assuming he produces at those levels and then opts out, the Red Sox come away with quite a bargain. Note that these figures are rough approximations, and that the inflation rates of free agent dollars and of Price's decline are merely educated guesses. Given his past success, it would hardly be a shock to see Price go out and dominate for three years. If that's the case, then the deal is even more of a steal for the Red Sox.
Here's the thing, though. Pitchers break. Pitchers break often and without warning. David Price is a 30-year-old pitcher with quite a lot of mileage on his left arm. Price getting injured in a non-inconsequential way is far from outside the realm of possibility. If Price lands on the disabled list with an injury that keeps him out for any extended period of time, especially if it's in his second or third season at Fenway, his potential earning power on the open market radically plummets. 33-year-old pitchers with recent serious injuries on their ledgers are not attractive options, especially with the size of free agent contracts rising ever upward.
This is the nightmare scenario for Boston, the CC Sabathia scenario, an aging and largely ineffective pitcher stapled to the 25-man roster with an incredible amount of money being vacuumed into his bank account. The Red Sox are blessed with a lucrative market and a fabulously wealthy owner, so it isn't a doomsday scenario. But an immovable contract for a broken starter is the half-naked game of chicken that every front office plays when they sign a starting pitcher to a big deal. If Price doesn't opt out of his deal, one of three things will have happened. He could simply really like Boston! Or he'll decide that his current deal is simply better than anything he would get on the open market, or he'll get hurt and pull the string on his humongous money-colored parachute.
Dave Dombrowski is playing with fire. He is dancing around an open flame and juggling firecrackers. The good news for Red Sox fans is that Dombrowksi is one of the best jugglers in the baseball world. Sure, he's dropped balls in the past. He'll never escape the horrible truth of the Doug Fister deal. He'll never live down that he failed time and time again to build a competent bullpen despite a nearly limitless Detroit budget and an owner that craves a World Series ring like he craves oxygen. That's okay. At the end of the day, Dave Dombrowski knows what he's doing. He was hired to clean up the mess in Fenway for a reason. With this signing, Dombrowski has truly arrived. It's time for his reign in Boston to begin.