Wednesday, December 2, 2015

David Price Joins the Red Sox - Breaking it Down

The bombshell in the sporting world last night was the news that the Red Sox signed free-agent pitcher David Price to a seven-year, $217M dollar contract. The premier free-agent pitcher on the market this off-season, Price gives the Sox the top-flight pitcher they were lacking last year. Between this and the trade for Craig Kimbrel, Sox GM Dave Dombrowski has solidified Boston's pitching to a large degree.

The details of the deal are pretty straight-forward. Price can opt out after three years (end of 2018 season). He makes $30M each year for the first three years, $31M in the fourth and $32M each of the last three years. So you can also look at this as a three-year deal, which changes some things we can talk about in a moment.

Lifetime, Price is 104-56 with a 3.09 ERA. He won the Cy Young in 2012 and finished second in 2010 and 2015. He has thrown 200+ innings in five of the last six years. He is without argument one of the best pitchers in baseball and gives Boston their first Cy Young winner in the rotation since Pedro Martinez left at the end of the 2004 season.

Lifetime at Fenway, Price is 6-1 in 11 starts with a 1.95 ERA and a 0.946 WHIP. He is 16-2 lifetime against the Blue Jays, 13-7 against the Yankees. Being a lefty in Fenway has not presented Price with many problems over his career and I don't think it will now, any more than it did Jon Lester. And he is solid against the big teams in the AL East.

Oh, and Price doesn't cost the Red Sox their first-round draft pick.

So based off of the above, this sounds like a great signing. And for the most part, it is. But there is one rather large red flag.

In the post-season, Price is 2-7 lifetime with a 5.12 ERA in 14 starts. It's a rather large mark on an otherwise stellar career. And since the goal of any team is to make the post-season and win the World Series, can Boston do that with Price leading the rotation?

If your problem is how your pitcher performs in the post-season, that means you have to get to the post-season first. So of all the problems your pitcher could have, there are worse ones for a fanbase to face.

As for the money...yes, a $31M per year average is steep for any pitcher, let alone one whom has just hit 30. But the Sox had a need and Price was the best pitcher to fill that need. Plus, the third-year opt-out is interesting.

Baseball is swimming in money. A recent TV contract deal increased MLB television revenue by 100%. So the Sox can afford this deal. But say Price just kills it the next three years. He wins a Cy Young, the Sox win another title. Odds are in 2018, baring a national economic collapse, that Price will opt-out and try for more money.

But he will also be 33. Dombrowski and Boston may look at that and gamble that Price won't be able to replicate his recent performance. And maybe by that time, Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens have established themselves as a great young duo in the rotation. In which case they shed a big contract without losing too much.

Or the other scenario occurs: Price is a bust and Boston is saddled with another large deal they can't shed. But there is nothing in Price's career to date that suggests this is likely to happen.

The bottom line is that Boston addressed their key need by signing the premier free-agent pitcher on the market. They took on some risk with the per-year value of the contract but there is a third-year opt-out that could negate that risk entirely. It's a good move by Boston and puts the rest of the league on notice that the Sox mean business in 2016.

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