MLB: David Price Just Turned the Red Sox Into AL East Favorites

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This is the ninth entry in a series of MLB debates focused on baseball-related topics. Victor Barbosa and Eric Schaal write pieces about what’s trending across the league, offering analysis and opinion on a particular topic in a point/counterpoint format.

The next stop in David Price‘s career-long American League East tour will be Beantown. The 30-year-old pitcher reportedly agreed to a seven-year, $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. The mega-deal — which is the largest contract ever given to a pitcher — will tie for the highest average annual salary at $31 million per season, sharing the distinction with the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera. The acquisition — pending a physical — reportedly includes an opt-out clause after the 2018 season, which would be three years into the deal.

Price just wrapped up his seventh full season in the major leagues, after being selected by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays as the first overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft. The hard-throwing southpaw made his MLB debut late in the 2008 season and pitched in that year’s playoffs as well. He then spent 2009-2013 and part of the 2014 campaign calling Tropicana Field his home before being traded to the Tigers as the main piece of a mammoth, three-team deal at the 2014 trade deadline. After nearly a full calendar year in the Motor City, Price was traded again this past July, this time to the Toronto Blue Jays.

As he embarks on the third step in a division-wide journey, Price has immediately made the Red Sox the favorites for the 2016 AL East title — for now. The five-time All-Star (and 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner) is surely the most significant prize reeled in by Red Sox President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski. However, Ben Cherington’s successor has been quite busy this fall.

In mid-November the team acquired closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres for a package of prospects. Then, soon after reaching an agreement with Price, they signed outfielder Chris Young to a two-year deal. Young could be a nice veteran to complement the projected starting outfield — a youthful bunch — of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Rusney Castillo. Kimbrel is an established closer who, along with Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, can be a deadly combination at the back-end of the bullpen. However, Price puts Boston over the top as the current runaway favorites in the division.

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Before we review Price’s credentials and why his addition alone makes the Sox the top contender of the five, let’s look at how the rest of the division stacks up as of early December. First, with the loss of their ace, the defending division-champion Blue Jays are bound to drop off a bit from their splendid 2015 season.

Consider some of the pitching splits for their roster between the first and second halves of the season. Before the All-Star break (more or less when they got Price), the Blue Jays posted 2.52 SO/W, .257 BAA, 4.18 ERA, and a pedestrian 45-46 record. After the break, those numbers changed to 3.32, .236, 3.34, and 48-23 respectively. Although their powerful lineup should return, the loss of their ace will be felt mightily in 2016.

The New York Yankees are bound to make a big move or two before next season, but as of now, question marks fill their starting rotation. Thanks to some contributions from minor league call-ups last year, the offense looks a bit fresher, but how much longer can you really count on Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann to produce? The bullpen should remain a strength of this club, but the Yanks need to answer the Sox’ moves soon.

Instead of building from their ALCS appearance in 2014, the Baltimore Orioles took a step back last year. The expected departure of free agent Chris Davis may hurt the offense, but a lineup core including Adam Jones and Manny Machado should suffice. The starting pitching however needs to get better. Wei-Yin Chen “led” the starters with an 11-8 record and a solid 3.34 ERA in 2015, but aside from that, no other rotation member posted a sub-4.00 ERA.

Finally, you have Price’s original squad, the Rays. Looking at the current depth chart, this team lacks star power and firepower — other than Evan Longoria. The group lost the likes of Price and James Shields in the starting rotation, B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist on offense, and of course Joe Maddon from the dugout in recent years. The Rays are banking on a bounce-back season from Longoria to return to their winning ways. Chris Archer is a potential ace, but at this point in his career, he’s certainly no Price.

Yes, the over-the-top contract both in terms of money and years is risky when applied to a 30-year-old with lots of innings on his arm, but this was a move that Red Sox Nation needed. For any Sox fan under the age of 30, consecutive years of finishing in last place — let alone not making the playoffs — is nearly unheard of. It was unacceptable for the fan base and front office.

Now, with an already strong lineup and bullpen looking to improve with Young and Kimbrel respectively, the biggest weakness of 2015 — the starting five — should be better as well. With Price as the No. 1, Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz shift to more suitable second and third slots, with young gun Eduardo Rodriguez perhaps as the four starter. The rest of the bunch will battle it out for the fifth position.

This week, many internet commenters have expressed concern over the Price deal due to his struggles in the playoffs. However, the goal for the Boston front office right now is to get back to the postseason — and they’ll see what happens then. Besides, the Winter Meetings are coming, and who says Dombrowski is done making moves?

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