Before Dave Dombrowski took the job as Red Sox president of baseball operations, back when conversations with Sox owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner were just informal and hypothetical, Do
mbrowski already had David Price’s name in mind.
Dombrowski outlined priorities for a team that had finished last the past two seasons — getting a fourth outfielder, adding a closer as insurance for Koji Uehara — but the obvious priority was landing a No. 1 starter.
“When you talk about trying to build a ball club and a winning club, I think it’s extremely important to have a No. 1 starter if you can,” Dombrowski said. “Not only from an ability perspective but what it does for your staff. It takes the pressure off of some of the people. It allows your manager to count on that guy to give innings. A lot of times, the other pitchers in the rotation follow suit.
In that initial meeting in August, Dombrowski pinpointed Price.
“Before Dave made his decision to come here, the first time we sat down with him, David’s name came up and he said, ‘This is the kind of pitcher we want to go after,” said Henry, who also owns the Globe.
Four months later, the Red Sox followed through on that vision, investing a landmark $217 million over seven years for a pitcher.
Price, who had spent years battling the Red Sox as an AL East rival with the Tampa Bay Rays, wanted to join a team where winning was the standard, even if it had been a struggle the past two seasons.
“This is a place that has winning in their history,” Price said. “I definitely think they have winning in their future. They want to win, they know how to win. We’re extremely young and that’s what I want to be a part of.
“To be around those guys, to help them be a part of something like this — the passion from the fans, the passion from the community — this is a place that has winning in their blood.”
For Dombrowski, there was value in a hard-throwing lefthander like Price, who had been the rock of a pitching staff since he was 24 — not just because of the scarcity of No. 1s around baseball but because of Price’s intangibles.
“I’m a very strong believer in character,” Dombrowski said. “Being fortunate enough to cross paths with David in Detroit — I didn’t know him other than I knew he was a really good pitcher — but what a quality individual he was and how well he was received in the clubhouse and the community. I had more than one person tell me from a player perspective and from a staff perspective that he’s the best teammate that they ever had.’’
Henry jokingly acknowledged that the signing contradicted one of his previously held opinions. It was just last year Henry told Bloomberg Businessweek, “virtually all the overpaid players are over 30. Yet teams continue to extravagantly overpay for players above the age of 30.”
Now that the Sox have handed out the most lucrative deal in franchise history to a pitcher that turned 30 in August, Henry playfully forgot those comments.
“I was quoting a study that someone had done,” Henry said. “It’s been so long now that I don’t really remember the study. I guess I must’ve forgotten what it was about.”
He looked around the Royal Rooters Club at Fenway Park, which was crowded with members of the team’s front office and decorated with a flatscreen welcoming Price, and waited for laughter.
“That was supposed to be a joke,” Henry said.
The punchline fell flat, but Henry was earnest about his feelings for Price’s future with the Sox.
“There are exceptions to any rule and certainly this is one of the most exceptional pitchers,” Henry said.
For his part, Price embraced the idea of leading a pitching staff with young talent, which includes 22-year-old lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez.
“I’m 30 years old, but I’m 8 years old at heart,” Price said. “And I think anybody that knows me or has been my teammate will tell you the same thing.”
The role of an ace is one he’s taken seriously throughout his career and he understands the weight it will carry in Boston.
“I want to pitch deep into ballgames,” Price said. “That’s something I definitely take a lot of pride in. I want to try to give that bullpen a day off. And when I’m not pitching, I’m there for not only my other teammates, but all the other starters and all the other pitchers.
“That’s what an ace is. You’re not going to shy away from the big game. You want the ball. You definitely want to be able to pitch deep into ballgames and I want to be a leader.”
Price has plenty of history in Boston, with 23 regular-season starts plus four postseason appearances against the Sox, including the 1⅓ innings of relief he threw in the Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS that propelled the Rays to the World Series.
It wasn’t unusual to see him post photos of himself on Twitter riding Hubway bikes down Newbury St.
“I know my way around this city” Price said. “I get on my Hubway and I start pedaling. It’s something I love doing.”
(He might still have to work that part out with management. “We’re not going to let David ride the Hubway,” Tom Werner. “We’re going to drive him to Fenway Park.”)
With a 6-1 record, a 1.95 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 74 innings, Price was as comfortable on the mound at Fenway as he was riding through the city.
“Boston was special to me both good and bad throughout my career,” Price said. “Probably the biggest game I’ve been a part of was Game 7 of — I won’t mention it — but if that game went differently I might not be sitting here right now, because I might not have put the career together that I did. The confidence that just that game gave me in itself, being in that big situation and helping the team that I was pitching for at the time in Tampa get to that next level was very big for me.”
At times his relationship with the city and the Sox has been tense. He had an on-and-off riff with David Ortiz that bubbled over in May 2014 when Price dotted Ortiz with a fastball. Price chalked the bad blood up to the heat of the game, and left it in the past.
“Big Papi and myself, we’re both competitors,” Price said. “What he’s done for this organization and the game of baseball is extremely special and I’m ready to be one of his really good friends. I watch him from across the field and I always get to see him on TV and stuff like that, and the guy’s a competitor. That’s what I am, too.”
Price said it won’t be the first time the impression he had of a player from the outside changed once he was in the same clubhouse.
“When I got traded to Detroit two years ago, I could not stand Ian Kinsler,” he said. “We absolutely hated each other. Now we’re both one of each other’s favorite teammates and favorite players. That’s the game of baseball and that’s life. I’m definitely hoping to be cheering for Big Papi every at-bat and I think we’re going to have a good relationship.”
Price said the $217 million price tag isn’t nearly as heavy as the burden he’s placed on himself. There will be moments when Price will appear to be talking to himself on the mound. There’s a reason for that, he said.
“I want to be great” he said. “That’s what I tell myself. Whenever you guys see me talking to myself on the mound, 90 percent of the time, I’m telling myself to be great. That’s whether I’m throwing the ball well at the time or if I’m struggling and I’ve got bases loaded and it’s 3-0 and I’ve got nobody out. That’s what I’m telling myself to do.
“If I go out there and throw the baseball the way that I’m capable of throwing it, I know the expectations for all of Red Sox Nation will be met. If I come anywhere close to meeting the expectations that I set for myself, then I’m very positive that everybody else will be happy with that.”
Thank God the blood sample part of my physical is over!! Best sample I've ever given..I love Boston already!! Maybe an inch of snow as well?— David Price (@DAVIDprice14) December 4, 2015
Price’s contract is the largest in history for a pitcher. It 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.Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.