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Are the Red Sox overpaying for pitching?

The Red Sox gave up a lot to acquire Craig Kimbrel and David Price. Did they give up more than they had to?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox have made two of the biggest moves so far this offseason by signing David Price and trading for Craig Kimbrel. The Kimbrel deal was widely panned by writers like Dave Cameron and Keith Law who argued that the Red Sox gave up too much minor league talent for a pitcher who will only throw 60-70 innings per season. With Kimbrel owed $11 million next season and $13 million in 2017 and 2018, the amount of surplus value he can provide is already limited, and the Red Sox effectively gave up one of the best packages of prospects we have seen traded all year.

The David Price deal, which is the largest deal ever given out to a pitcher, has also been called an overpay by some people, but in reality, the deal is not too far off some of the estimates that were thrown around going into the offseason. There is even a decent chance that the Red Sox will come out ahead on the deal, especially if Price opts out after three years.

What makes the Price contract interesting is that the Red Sox outbid the next closest competitor (the Cardinals) by at least $30 million, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. This report would seem to suggest that the Red Sox paid more than they needed to for Price, even if the contract does not necessarily look bad from a dollars per win analysis.

It should be noted that the Red Sox may have had good reason to make this kind of offer and blow away the competition. Perhaps Price was unwilling to sign with Boston unless they paid a premium, given his history with the team. (Ken Rosenthal wrote about this possibility last week.) Perhaps the bidding would have gone higher had the Red Sox waited and not put pressure on Price to make a decision. According to Nightengale, the Red Sox wanted a decision from him soon so that they wouldn't miss out on Zack Greinke if Price declined their offer. On the surface, though, it seems like the Red Sox overpaid for Price, at least compared to what other teams were willing to offer.

While some may claim that this is the new norm in Boston under new President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski, I would argue that the Red Sox started this trend when they gave Rick Porcello a four-year $82.5 million dollar extension on Opening Day this season. With this contract, the Red Sox bought out four of Porcello's free agent years at an AAV just over $20 million, despite the fact that Porcello had never posted a 3 fWAR season in his career. This is notable because every other pitcher to receive a contract with an AAV of at least $20 million had posted at least a 5 fWAR season at some point in their career prior to receiving their contract. The Porcello contract looks like even more of an overpay when we take into account the fact that Porcello was a year away from free agency and had yet to make his Red Sox debut.

Perhaps these three deals are unrelated, but it is certainly strange to see the Red Sox effectively redefining the market for three different kinds of pitchers. It is possible that the Red Sox have to pay a premium to convince pitchers to play their home games at Fenway Park, which has been one of the most hitter friendly ballparks in recent years according to park factors.

It is also possible that the Red Sox are paying high prices for these pitchers because the value of a win for them is higher than it is for other teams. While we often make estimates for the market value of a win and analyze free agent contracts looking at dollars per win, the reality is that a win is worth different amounts of money for each individual team. A marginal win is probably worth more money for a team like the Red Sox than it is for a team like the Rays. If a team makes more money as a result of an extra win, then it would make sense that they should pay more money for the players who deliver those wins.

The Red Sox may be at the right spot on the win curve where the value of each marginal win is highest. They finished the 2015 season with a record of 78-84, but their true talent level is at least a few wins better than their 2015 record. (They gain four wins alone if Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are simply replacement level.) In other words, the Red Sox are at a point where acquisitions like Kimbrel and Price could be the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs, which can be worth a lot of money.

Furthermore, it is possible that the Red Sox are worried about the potential loss in revenue that could result from their third last place finish in four years. The Red Sox fan base has been known for being impatient, and it is possible that another bad season could have a more permanent effect on fan interest, which could affect the team's long-term revenue. If the Red Sox believe that having a successful 2016 season is pivotal in maintaining a high revenue from sources like gate receipts and broadcast revenue, then it would make sense that they would be willing to spend more money and/or prospects than usual on elite players.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox are improving their team for 2016, and for this reason, they will likely be perceived by many to be one of the "winners" of the offseason. Still, there is a strong case to be made that the Red Sox paid more than they had to for players like Price and Kimbrel. These decisions may end up hurting the team in the long run, but then again, a high payroll can make up for a lot of mistakes.

Nick Lampe is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and Viva el Birdos. You can follow him on Twitter at @NickLampe1.