It’s a pretty simple philosophy. If you can’t pitch, you won’t win. Once you accept that as truth, then the Red Sox’ offseason will make perfect sense.
Nearly three weeks after trading for one of the best closers in baseball in Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox signed lefty starter David Price to a seven-year, $217 million deal. The $31 million average annual salary is the highest ever for a pitcher. And he can opt-out after three years if he wants, at the age of 33.
Price turns 31 in August. He led the American League with a 2.45 ERA last season, pitching for both the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays.
The Tigers traded him at the deadline, and if not for the acquisition, the Blue Jays wouldn’t have been such a lock for the postseason. In 11 starts for Toronto, Price went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA while striking out 87 in 74.1 innings. His postseason numbers weren’t as great: a 6.17 ERA in three starts (four appearances), as the Blue Jays lost to the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
It’s those postseason numbers — to go along with a 2-7 record and 5.12 ERA in his postseason career — that make some question whether $217 million is too much money for the 30-year-old.
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Did I say “pitcher?” Sorry, I meant “ace.” Because that’s exactly what Price is. And that’s exactly what the Red Sox need, if they want to win again.
Complaining about the $217 million doesn’t make much sense. If the Red Sox need a top-of-the-rotation arm, how should they get it? Sure, there’s always the possibility of a blockbuster trade — which I still don’t rule out, by the way. But even if that happened, the Sox would eventually have to pay that pitcher. And in 2015, the market value for an “ace” is exactly what Dave Dombrowski just gave Price.
Look at some of the recent deals for dominant starters. Last winter, Jon Lester signed with the Chicago Cubs for $155 million over six seasons, which makes for a $26 million average annual salary. Also last winter, the Washington Nationals gave Max Scherzer a seven-year, $210 million deal, which comes out to an average annual salary of $30 million. And just before the 2014 season, Clayton Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which is just under a $31 million average annual salary.
So, there you go. That’s what it takes in 2015 to either keep or acquire a dominant starting pitcher with the signing of a check. And given the market that was already set, it should come as no surprise that someone like Price would receive a similar contract. And out of all the free agents available, Price is the best bet to succeed in Boston.
Price has a 1.95 ERA in 11 career starts at Fenway Park. It’s his best ERA in any ballpark that he’s pitched in at least three times. The 2012 AL Cy Young award winner and five-time All-Star has spent nearly all of his career in the AL East. So he’s proven himself in a pressure-packed division that includes playing in Boston and New York, the two most pressure-packed cities in sports.
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Some believe he hasn’t proven himself in the postseason, which, if you only Google-search “David Price career postseason stats,” you’ll be correct. But if you actually watched his two starts in the 2015 ALCS — both on the road in Kansas City — you’d see that the ERA and Win-Loss doesn't tell the whole story.
Price had eight strikeouts in both of those starts, while walking only one total batter, going into the seventh inning of each game. In the first start, his manager left him on the mound for way too long. In the second start, Price allowed two solo home runs in the first two innings, but settled down nicely and was dealing the rest of the way.
I’m not making excuses for him. His postseason numbers aren’t good. But if you actually watch Price pitch, you’ll know that he’s got the power stuff to eventually figure it out in October.
And when you accept the fact that the Red Sox need to get back to the postseason before they can even begin to worry about postseason numbers, then the signing of Price will make perfect sense.