Red Sox

Red Sox

For the past few seasons, Red Sox ownership hasn't been shy about its opposition to long-term deals to pitchers 30 and older.

But on Tuesday, the Red Sox reached agreement with 30-year-old David Price, signing him to the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, topping the $215 million given to Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the $210 million given last winter to Max Scherzer by the Washington Nationals.

So, what changed?

Two things:

1) The Red Sox recent massive under-performance.

The Sox have finished in the basement in each of the last two seasons and three times in the last four.

Moreover, they've reached the post-season only once in the last six years. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2013, but failed to qualify in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. And if one stretched back to a sweep in the Division Series at the hands of the Angels in 2009, the Red Sox have won a post-season game (singular) just once in the last seven years.

For a big-market team with a devoted fan base and its own TV network, such poor play couldn't be sustained, particularly in a competitive sports marketplace currently being dominated by the Patriots.

Ratings have nose-dived for NESN, the regional sports network 80 percent owned by the Red Sox, a reflection of the team's irrelevance and inability to remain remotely competitive in three of the last four years.

There's evidence to suggest that new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski attempted to land the much-needed No. 1 starter through trade at last month's GM Meetings.

 

Naturally, there are few who are available. And those that are come at a huge price in terms of prospects in return.

Oakland made it clear it wouldn't deal Sonny Gray and the Chicago White Sox, while possibly in play, couldn't be pried loose without surrendering either Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts being part of the deal.

Left with little available in the trade market, Dombrowski got ownership to loosen the purse strings and paid Price more than three times its opening offer to Jon Lester in March of 2014, and $82 million more than it was willing to spend on Lester on the free agent market.

2) The opt-out - after the 2018 season -- gives them at least some protection.

The opt-out is Price's, not the club's, so it's not as if the Sox can walk away from the deal if Price doesn't pitch to expectations in his first three years with the Red Sox.

But recent history suggests that any player given an opt-out is almost guaranteed to use it. CC Sabathia did so after signing a seven-year deal with the New York Yankees after 2008, and turned what would have been four years and $92 million remaining into a five-year deal worth $122.

Currently, Zack Greinke, perhaps the next-best starting pitching option on the market, is attempting to do the same thing. Greinke signed a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers that included an opt-out after 2016.

Greinke opted out of three years and $71 million and is expected to land a five-year deal for $150 million or more.

If Price pitches well over the next three seasons, he could opt-out after turning 33 and seek a more lucrative, longer deal.

The Red Sox may hope he does just that, after presumably giving the Sox three strong seasons that may lead them to a title or two.

At that point, Price could become someone else's problem as he gets into his mid-30s.

The worst-case scenario, of course, is that Price doesn't pitch well in his first three years, and knowing that he has maxed out his value, would choose to remain in Boston as an overpaid, underperforming aging pitcher.

That's an expensive risk that the Red Sox are willing to take.