Red Sox’ plan for 2016 started and ended on the mound

Signing David Price was the coup of the offseason for Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
Signing David Price was the coup of the offseason for Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.Barry Chin/Globe staff

The deal was done and the decision made, David Price would sign with the Red Sox for seven years and $217 million. Dave Dombrowski was in his office at Fenway Park when the call came from the lefthander’s agent, Bo McKinnis.

General manager Mike Hazen was standing a few feet away and they quickly informed manager John Farrell, who happened to be in the park that day.

“It was a sigh of relief,” said Dombrowski, who had been the team’s president of baseball operations for four months. “That call was the one we wanted to get.”

As the news spread, the one person who didn’t yet know was Price.


He was standing at the 10th hole of a charity golf tournament hosted by former big leaguer Wally Joyner at TPC Las Vegas. Price knew McKinnis was close to making a deal but that was it.

“Whenever I play golf, I don’t look at my phone. I put it in my bag and I leave it there,” Price said.

But the curiosity was too much to bear. Price finally took a look while in the fairway waiting to take his second shot. McKinnis had just called and Price immediately called him back.

“Bo said it was not official and not to say anything,” Price said. “I said OK and two minutes later my phone was going nuts. My parents called me and my girlfriend wanted to know why I didn’t tell her.”

Price flew to Boston, passed his physical, and was introduced two days later.

For Dombrowski and his staff, it was the end of a hectic 20-day period in which the Red Sox obtained all three of the players they felt fit their needs best. They executed every aspect of Plan A, something that almost never happens.

The Red Sox traded for closer Craig Kimbrel on Nov. 13, came to an agreement with free agent outfielder Chris Young on Nov. 30, and then struck the deal with Price on Dec. 2.


Frank Wren, the team’s senior vice president of baseball operations, couldn’t believe it.

“I sent Dave a message after the Price deal, from one old GM to another,” said Wren. “It said, ‘You never get the top three guys on your list.’ We had a pretty good winter.”

Turning winter celebrations into spring success is rarely automatic. But after two seasons of scattershot decision-making, the Red Sox are on a straighter path. Since he joined the organization in August, Dombrowski has identified problems and moved quickly to solve them.

Fixing the pitching staff was the top item on his agenda.

“You never wonder what he’s thinking,” Farrell said. “We quickly learned how direct he is.”

Still, identifying Kimbrel, Price, and Young as the players wanted most was a group effort that included a 2,700-mile trip across the country to talk about it.

As the Royals and Mets played in the World Series, the Red Sox held an organizational meeting at the Marriott Suites in Scottsdale to coincide with games in the Arizona Fall League.

Along with the senior members of his staff, Dombrowski invited Farrell and bench coach Torey Lovullo along with the team’s professional scouts.

Brad Pearson, newly promoted to head athletic trainer, joined the group to answer any medical questions. In a sign of his growing influence with the organization, former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek also had a seat at the table.


In all, there were about 20 people. Every organization holds similar meetings, but the tenor of this one was unlike previous ones the holdovers on the staff had experienced.

“Dave certainly did it differently, more like he has done it in the past,” said Hazen, who has been with the Red Sox since 2006. “His style, the way he runs a meeting, was different.”

The Sox wasted no time on positions that were filled or contemplating implausible scenarios. The focus was only on what was needed.

“There was a relentless drilling down on the candidates that made up that list,” Farrell said.

Previous missteps left the Red Sox in need of a staff ace and ultimately put Dombrowski in that conference room.

The Red Sox had a lead dog in lefthander Jon Lester, who pitched the team to a World Series championship in 2013 and wanted to sign a contract extension.

The team’s response was a low-ball offer that angered Lester and led to his trade only nine months after the championship.

The Red Sox compounded that mistake by insisting they did not need a premier starter to replace Lester. They entered last season with a weak rotation and were out of contention by mid-June.

Dombrowski was hired to oversee baseball operations on Aug. 18, prompting the resignation of general manager Ben Cherington. That the Red Sox needed an ace was evident to him from the start.


“Right away,” Dombrowski said. “If you want to win, and it was obvious we would try to do that, having somebody on top of your rotation is an important thing. That sets the stage for the rest of the staff. It was clear to me, even if I did not know who that would be or whether we would sign a free agent or trade for someone.”

The group also prioritized adding to the bullpen. In Koji Uehara, the Red Sox already had a successful closer. But the righthander would be 41 by Opening Day.

“There were two alternatives,” Dombrowski said. “Get someone in a trade that we felt could close if something happened to Koji or get a closer and slide Koji into the eighth inning. It was either/or.”

The Sox felt they had the prospect depth to trade with San Diego and obtain Kimbrel.

The other important need was for a veteran outfielder to balance a group that included largely unproven Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo. Young was the consensus choice.

That the Red Sox had vast institutional knowledge of Price and Kimbrel expedited the decision-making process.

While president of the Tigers, Dombrowski traded for Price in 2014 and watched him closely for 32 starts over a calendar year.

“It helped a great deal. I had a chance to know what kind of person he was,” Dombrowski said. “With the dollars that you’re going to pay someone like that, you’re looking for the whole package.”


“The on-field performance, a lot of people could evaluate. I knew what kind of guy he was in the clubhouse, the leadership capabilities, the type of family person he is. The knowledge of how he gets involved in the community. You can do your homework, but being able to see that on a first-hand basis was extremely important.”

A conversation with David Price, Brian Bannister, Alex Speier, and Peter Abraham:

The same was true of Kimbrel and Wren. As general manager of the Atlanta Braves, Wren drafted Kimbrel in 2008, brought him to the majors two years later and saw him become one of the game’s best closers.

No executive knew the righthander better.

Wren told the group he had no doubt Kimbrel would thrive in Boston.

“I’ve watched him since he was a 19-year-old kid,” said Wren. “I’ve never seen him shaken by any situation. He’s not flawless; closers will have bad games. But he’s not a guy I worry about how he’ll bounce back the next day.”

Said Hazen: “Kimbrel was one of many. We talked about a lot of relief guys but he was at the top of the list.”

That Dombrowski kept a large percentage of the staff intact after replacing Cherington aided in the process. Hazen and the others were able to present a clear accounting of the farm system and what players the Sox could afford to trade.

“We had gotten Dave up to speed quickly,” Hazen said. “We got off on the right foot going into the offseason and the meetings were upbeat. It was a good balance of old and new.”

Wren, who was hired in late September, felt that was a credit to Dombrowski’s approach.

“Whether they were new or from the old regime, they were all his guys at that point,” he said. “Dave told me there were a lot of good people there and he didn’t have an agenda to make changes.”

The meetings ended with a concrete plan.

Once the World Series was over, free agency started and Dombrowski contacted McKinnis to let him know the Red Sox were serious about Price. Dombrowski also opened negotiations with Padres general manager A.J. Preller about Kimbrel.

At the general managers meetings a week later, it quickly became evident the Sox would find their starter via agency and a reliever via trade. Other teams, somewhat unusually, were up-front about their plans.

With the market moving quickly, the Sox traded four prospects for Kimbrel. Wren learned of the trade as he was driving to the funeral of former Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson in Atlanta.

When he arrived at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Wren found himself sitting across the aisle from Kimbrel.

“I knew that we had acquired him but Craig did not know yet that he had been traded,” Wren said. “I saw him at the reception afterward but we just said hello and paid our respects. That wasn’t the environment to tell him.”

As Kimbrel was driving back to his home in Tennessee with his wife, Ashley, Dombrowski called with the news.

“It came as a shock to me,” Kimbrel said. “I knew [Wren] had gone to the Red Sox but I didn’t think that meant they would try and trade for me.”

Six days later, the Sox had a dinner meeting with Price in Nashville. At Price’s suggestion, they met at The Southern, a steak house in the city’s SoBro District.

Along with Dombrowski, Hazen, Wren, and Farrell, Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe, and team president Sam Kennedy made the trip.

Price, who came up with the budget-conscious Tampa Bay Rays, was eager to hear about the team’s financial resources and charitable endeavors. Kennedy took a lead role there.

Hazen then detailed the organization’s strong base of prospects, something Price was deeply interested in given what would be a long-term deal.

Farrell was more interested in questioning Price.

“We had some good conversation and I got to know about him a little better,” the manager said. “All I knew was a fierce competitor off the field and maybe one of those guys you don’t like because he’s not in your uniform.

“I say that as a compliment. After getting to know more about David, his family and the foundation he has in his life, I came away with a great appreciation of who he is as a person.”

Price told McKinnis after the meeting he could see himself with the Red Sox.

“I felt wanted,” he said. “Not that other teams had done anything wrong. The Red Sox had just done it in a way that mattered to me.”

Price considered as many as 11 teams at the outset, then trimmed it to the Red Sox, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, and Giants.

The Cubs were thought to be a leading contender, but that was more a product of speculation than fact. Dombrowski correctly saw the Cardinals as the team to beat, not the Cubs.

“I kept reading about the Cubs but [Price] basically said he didn’t think that was going to happen,” Dombrowski said.

The Red Sox considered alternatives, meeting with free agent righthanders Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann. But the focus always was on Price.

When Zimmermann signed with the Tigers in late November, the Sox raised their bid for Price to a level the Cardinals would not match.

“It was what I wanted,” Price said. “I’m stepping out of my comfort zone by going to Boston but I embrace that.”

When it was over, the Sox had checked every box.

At the ownership level, there was optimism tinged with caution. Trades for top-shelf starters Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett led to championships. But what appeared to be a successful offseason in 2010 — trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford — led only to heartache.

“Sometimes you execute Plan A and it doesn’t pan out,” Werner said. “[But] if you can acquire a top-of-the-line starter, that’s always good.”

Dombrowski has been running major league teams since 1990. Every offseason in those 26 years has included a meeting to plan a roster. He can’t remember a year when so many moving parts smoothly clicked into place.

“Good timing,” he said.

Hazen respectfully disagreed with his new boss.

“We charged toward 2016 and it started with Dave making everybody comfortable,” he said. “We were able to get him the information he needed and he made decisions. We’ll see what the results are but I’ve never been involved in anything like that.”

The Boston Red Sox starting pitchers tell The Globe what their favorite pitches are and how they grip them. Video by Alex Lancial/Globe Staff
The Boston Red Sox starting pitchers tell The Globe what their favorite pitches are and how they grip them. Video by Alex Lancial/Globe Staff

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.