A rival executive who knows the Cubs and their organizational strengths and weaknesses said signing David Price would have been a no-brainer this winter – if they didn’t already have Jon Lester locked up through at least the 2020 season.
But president of baseball operations Theo Epstein closed the deal with his signature free agent at last year’s winter meetings in San Diego, giving the All-Star lefty six years and $155 million guaranteed and a full no-trade clause to accelerate the rebuild at Wrigley Field.
This time, the Cubs simply wouldn’t have the same bandwidth or sense of desperation, no matter how much Price made it sound like he wanted to play for Joe Maddon again and win big in Chicago.
The Boston Red Sox made Price an offer he couldn’t refuse. That would be the largest deal ever for a pitcher – seven years and $217 million – plus a reported opt-out clause after three seasons.
The Boston Globe first reported the agreement on Tuesday afternoon, setting off a potential feeding frenzy leading up to next week’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
The Cubs continue to be linked to the next tier of free-agent pitchers – John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake – with Zack Greinke expected to choose between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
With a lineup anchored by young hitters, the Cubs also keep being mentioned as a potential match for the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and their stash of young pitchers.
While there are still big-picture questions about the franchise’s short-term financial flexibility and when baseball operations will have a big-market payroll, there is no denying the fact that the Cubs are built to win now and ready to compete for a World Series title.
Start with a rotation fronted by Jake Arrieta, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, and Lester, a two-time World Series champion, and there will be sky-high expectations when pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Arizona, in February.
Coming off a 97-win season that saw a talented young core grow up and win two playoff rounds, the Cubs aren’t building an entire offseason around one player, the way they once did with Masahiro Tanaka.
When the New York Yankees blew them away and won the bidding war for the star Japanese pitcher in January 2014, the Cubs rolled over the savings and used it to help finance the Lester megadeal, the richest contract in franchise history.
The Cubs never would have gotten their shot at Lester if Boston’s ownership group hadn’t made its homegrown ace such a lowball offer before Opening Day 2014.
That led to Lester getting traded to the Oakland A’s at the July 31 deadline, and an offer to return capped at roughly $135 million last December, the Red Sox clinging to philosophical ideas and warning against the history of 30-something pitchers.
Whatever. This has been a complete ideological shift after three last-place finishes wrapped around that 2013 World Series title at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox hired Dave Dombrowski to be their president of baseball operations in August, with general manager Ben Cherington stripped of his power and ultimately walking away from the job.
Dombrowski is an aggressive, decisive executive who first acquired Price from the Tampa Bay Rays at the 2014 deadline for the Detroit Tigers. One year later, Dombrowski flipped Price to the Toronto Blue Jays and tried to reboot Detroit’s aging, expensive core – only to get fired by Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.
All these forces put a blockbuster deal in motion. So much for Price having reservations about playing in Boston or with Red Sox icon David Ortiz. The Cubs are an attractive destination now, but these contracts almost always come down to years and dollars.
Price went to Vanderbilt University, developed into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft and won a Cy Young Award while pitching for Maddon’s Rays in 2012.
Price is 30 years old, 6-foot-6, left-handed and battle-tested in the American League East. His postseason numbers aren’t great (2-7, 5.12 ERA), but he’s regarded as an excellent teammate and clubhouse presence.
At least the Cubs won’t have to watch Price pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, who reportedly finished second to Boston in the sweepstakes and could still become major players this offseason.
The bottom line is the Cubs don’t feel like they’re one player away, knowing it might be smarter to make smaller bets and diversify their roster to get ready for next October.