There are plenty of ways to break down the signing of David Price. But it’s not all that complicated.
The Red Sox ask a lot of their fans. Ticket prices are the highest in the game and have been for a while now. Concessions are expensive, and Fenway Park can be a difficult place to get to, never mind park.
If the Sox are winning, fans put up with it. You happily pay for NESN and you drop a few hundred to catch a game in person once in a while. To many people, going to Fenway Park is more of a commitment than an option.
But when the Sox finish in last place three out of four years, it’s hard to ask fans to spend that money. New Englanders have become conditioned to expect success since the start of the Patriots dynasty in 2001. The Sox have 81 games to sell, and “Hey, maybe we’ll finish in third” isn’t much of a marketing slogan.
Fenway Park is charming. A contending team is far more charming.
So ownership hired Dave Dombrowski to make big deals and he delivered. Signing Price required the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, and Dombrowski didn’t wait for next week’s Winter Meetings. He acted quickly and decisively.
The Red Sox also had some wiggle room financially. In Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Blake Swihart, the team has a core group of valuable players who will be financial bargains for a period of 3-5 years.
A team source said Wednesday that young talent and their development last season enabled ownership to make the commitment to Price.
Tickets for next season go on sale in eight days, and this timing is no coincidence. The Sox improved the product they were selling. That’s really all this is.
Signing Price may have been a move driven by desperation. But if finishing last doesn’t make you desperate, what will?
A few other thoughts on the Price deal:
■ The Sox aren’t done with their 2016 roster. But they’re pretty close at this point. Dombrowski could make an addition or two to the bullpen and perhaps tweak the bottom of the rotation, but the core of the team looks set.
In theory, the Red Sox could look to trade a second-tier starter like Wade Miley, who certainly has value given his track record of reliability. But why chew into depth now?
Last season was a good example of how quickly starter depth can disappear, given that Craig Breslow made two starts in September.
The Sox could start the season with a rotation of Price, Clay Buchholz, Rodriguez, Rick Porcello, and Miley. That puts Joe Kelly in the bullpen, with Henry Owens and Brian Johnson in Triple A.
That group of eight is a good hedge against injuries and/or underperformance.
■ Say this for Dombrowski: He is candid. He said in October his goals were to add an ace, improve the bullpen, and add a fourth outfielder. He picked up Price, Craig Kimbrel, and Chris Young in a span of 19 days. Done, done, and done.
■ It would be tough to do, but if Dombrowski can find a way to trade Hanley Ramirez, the Sox will be even better. The big weakness of this team is the idea of Ramirez playing first base.
The Sox are saying plenty of nice things about Ramirez and telling people they’re fine with him playing first base, a sure sign they’re trying to deal him.
■ The complaints about Price’s postseason record — he’s 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 14 games — are somewhat amusing. The Red Sox have missed the playoffs in five of the last six years. If their biggest worry is how somebody will pitch in the playoffs, that’s a good worry.
The idea that a last-place team would seek pitchers based on their playoff success is remarkable hubris.
■ Dombrowski is now responsible for two of the eight largest contracts in baseball history. He signed Miguel Cabrera to an eight-year, $248 million deal in 2014 and now Price. Dombrowski also signed Justin Verlander for seven years and $180 million.
■ Price has an opt-out after the 2018 season. He would be 33 then. If Price has been successful to that point, he’ll surely become a free agent and look for a new deal. CC Sabathia took advantage of an opt-out to improve his deal, as did Zack Greinke and Alex Rodriguez.
Who’s to say what happens, but the Red Sox could actually adhere to the philosophy of not giving long-term contracts for pitchers by letting Price leave and use the $30 million elsewhere on the roster.
■ It’s truly amazing that the Red Sox could have signed Jon Lester for approximately $120 million during spring training in 2014 and now they could end up paying 81 percent more for Price.
■ The Red Sox are Tennessee’s team. Price is from Murfreesboro and lives in Nashville. Betts is from Nashville and now lives in Brentwood, about 15 miles south.
■ The Red Sox are the fourth team Price has been a member of in a span of just over 16 months. He has gone from the Rays to the Tigers to the Blue Jays and now to the Sox in that relatively brief time.
■ It’s an ancillary benefit, but Price has a great reputation for mentoring younger pitchers. Here’s what Toronto’s Marcus Stroman posted about Price on Instagram:
“Even though our time together was limited, you took every opportunity to take me under your wing and teach me your ways. For that, I am forever thankful. Watching and critiquing my bullpens. Treating everyone with class and respect. Putting your teammates first. Showing up early, and staying late. Forming a bond with every single guy on the team. I could go on forever.”
Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that Price was “the best teammate you could ask for.”
In Johnson, Owens, and Rodriguez, the Red Sox have three young lefties who could certainly learn a lot from somebody like Price. One thing missing since the trade of Lester has been a true leader among the pitchers.
■ You’ll see plenty of speculation that the Red Sox are now the team to beat in the American League East. Many of these same people thought that exactly one year ago, too. But Price and Kimbrel are certainly better-considered additions than Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.