The Red Sox have made bold moves before, outbidding rival teams for expensive free agents and engineering trades that led to championships. But what transpired on Tuesday went beyond that.
Lefthander David Price is the team’s new ace. He agreed to a landmark seven-year, $217 million deal that is the richest awarded to a major league pitcher and the largest in Red Sox history.
According to a source briefed on the agreement, the deal is pending a physical and an announcement is expected to come Friday at Fenway Park. Price, 30, has the right to opt out of the deal after the 2018 season.
For the Red Sox, who in 2014 moved away from the idea of long-term contracts for pitchers in their 30s, the contract represents a major shift in philosophy. But Price had the advantage of becoming a free agent when the Red Sox were desperate to change direction, having finished in last place two years in a row.
Price was one of the two best starters on the free agent market, along with righthander Zack Greinke. Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has been focused on Price for months, believing he was the pitcher needed atop the rotation.
The Sox built a rotation of middling starters last season, a flawed strategy that led to a last-place finish. Dombrowski, an executive with a long history of making splashy deals, was hired to make significant changes and was aggressive in doing so, first trading for closer Craig Kimbrel and now signing Price.
How unusual is this contract for the Red Sox? Until Tuesday, the biggest contract they had given a pitcher was the four-year, $82.5 million extension agreed to by Rick Porcello in April.
With the St. Louis Cardinals aggressively working to make a deal with Price and Price’s agent Bo McKinnis, the Sox raised their offer Tuesday morning. The final bid was described as being significantly higher than St. Louis’s proposal.
The timing was delicate for the Sox, who also were negotiating with Greinke. Dombrowski did not risk coming away empty and was backed by Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe.
Price’s deal calls for salaries of $30 million from 2016-18, $31 million in 2019, then $32 million from 2020-22. None of the money is deferred.
Price’s contract is $2 million more than the deal the Dodgers made with their ace, Clayton Kershaw, in 2014.
For Price, it’s the latest in a series of career twists over the last year and a half.
The Tennessee native was the first overall pick of the 2007 draft and made his major league debut with the Tampa Bay Rays only 15 months later.
Price was a cornerstone player for the Rays, going 82-47 with a 3.18 ERA before he was sent to the Detroit Tigers at the 2014 trade deadline.
Price spent a calendar year with the Tigers, going 13-8 with a 2.90 ERA. The Tigers fell out of contention last season and traded Price to the Toronto Blue Jays for three prospects.
Dombrowski, then the president and general manager of the Tigers, was fired five days later. The Red Sox quickly hired him.
Price played a big role in propelling the Blue Jays to their first playoff berth since 1993. He was 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts.
In all, Price was 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA last season. He had the lowest ERA in the league and was third with 220⅓ innings. His 225 strikeouts were the fourth-most in the league.
The Red Sox have not had a pitcher with at least 225 strikeouts since Jon Lester in 2010.
Had the Red Sox signed Lester to a long-term contract in 2014, Price would probably not be on his way to Boston. But talks broke down, Lester was traded and ultimately signed with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent.
The Sox are 101-115 since trading Lester. Acquiring a pitcher like Price became paramount to reverse that trend.
There are concerns. Price is 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 14 career playoff games.
Price also has thrown 1,299⅓ innings over the last six seasons, the fourth-most in baseball. But he has not been on the disabled list since 2013.
Price is a five-time All-Star and in 2012 became the first No. 1 overall pick to win a Cy Young Award. He was second in the voting last season.
In his career, Price has held lefthanded hitters to a .220 batting average, fourth lowest among active starters. He is 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 career starts at Fenway Park, the last coming in 2014.
That does not include his start in Game 2 of the American League Division Series in 2013. Price pitched into the eighth inning that night, allowing seven runs on nine hits.
Two of those hits were home runs by David Ortiz, the second coming in the eighth inning and knocking Price out of the game.
The ball was down the line in right field, just around the foul pole. Ortiz stood at the plate watching to see if the ball stayed fair and Price took offense.
The two settled their disagreement the next day, or so it seemed. But when Price next pitched at Fenway, on May 30, 2014, his first pitch to Ortiz was a fastball that struck the slugger in the back.
That sparked an argument that led to the ejection of Sox manager John Farrell. Ortiz was sharply critical of Price afterward and the pitcher responded by saying Ortiz thought he was bigger than the game.
Now Price and Ortiz will be teammates, if only for one season. Ortiz announced last month that he would retire after the coming season.
With Price atop the rotation, the Red Sox can slot Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Porcello, and Wade Miley behind him. Hard-throwing righthander Joe Kelly becomes a candidate for the bullpen and the Sox can keep Henry Owens in Triple A as depth.