David Price

Red Sox' David Price shrugs off trade rumors: 'This is a business'

Red Sox' David Price shrugs off trade rumors: 'This is a business'

David Price doesn't seem all that concerned about being at the center of trade rumors this offseason.

The Boston Red Sox left-hander has been linked to multiple teams on the rumor mill, including the Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, and St. Louis Cardinals. But through all the noise, he's maintained his focus on competing in 2020.

Price explained his current mindset on Monday to Jonny Miller of WBZ.

It doesn’t affect me. I’m still coming up here Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, getting my work in. I’ve been traded from Tampa Bay, from Detroit. I’ve been traded twice, and it’s part of the business. This is a business at the end of the day, and changes are going to be made, moves are going to be made, and you’ve just go out there and continue to play baseball.

There's been plenty of talk throughout the winter about the Red Sox looking to shed payroll ahead of the 2020 campaign. If that's the case, Price and the $96 million remaining on his contract are prime candidates to be shipped out of town.

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Another trade candidate is superstar outfielder Mookie Betts, who's set to hit free agency after the 2020 season if he and the Red Sox don't agree on a contract extension. The idea of packaging the two in a deal for salary relief purposes has been floated, though it doesn't appear to be likely at this point.

The Price rumors seem to have cooled down lately, so all signs currently point toward the 34-year-old returning for his fifth season in Boston. And if anything changes on that front, Price will handle it as he always has -- as a business.

Tomase: Sox in hibernation as offseason trudges on

John Henry says Red Sox focused on competitiveness not salary cutting

John Henry says Red Sox focused on competitiveness not salary cutting

About that whole Red Sox cutting payroll thing?

Sox principal owner John Henry told the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy that the team is focused more on being competitive rather than getting under baseball's luxury tax - a.k.a. competitive balance tax - threshold of $208 million.

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"But this focus on CBT [competitive balance tax] resides with the media far more than it does within the Sox," Henry, who also owns the Globe, wrote to Shaughnessy in an email. "I think every team probably wants to reset at least once every three years — that’s sort of been the history — but just this week...I reminded baseball ops that we are focused on competitiveness over the next 5 years over and above resetting to which they said, ‘That’s exactly how we’ve been approaching it.’

This comes a few months after Henry said this at Sox ownership's end-of-the-season press conference:

"This year we need to be under the CBT and that was something we've known for more than a year now. If you don't reset, there are penalties, so we've known for some time now we needed to reset as other clubs have done."

The Sox had MLB's highest payroll last season of $228 million and consequently had to pay a $13.4 million luxury tax, well above what it cost the only other two teams that had to pay - the Cubs at $7.6M and Yankees at $6.7M. The Sox have paid more than $50M in luxury tax since the system began in 2003.

Chaim Bloom was hired away from the Tampa Bay Rays, who had MLB's lowest payroll at $67M, to become Red Sox chief baseball officer with the thought that he'd be directed to slash payroll. That fueled rumors of trades involving big-money stars Mookie Betts and David Price.

Henry downplayed any salary-cutting directive and told Shaughnessy in the email that his bringing up the CBT at the end-of-the-season press conference was not some inadvertent revelation. 

“You seem to think Chaim was brought in to reduce payroll. That has simply not been the way FSG [Fenway Sports Group, Henry's parent company of the Red Sox and English Premier League soccer's Liverpool FC] operates here or across the pond," Henry wrote. "We try to act responsibly so as to be consistently competitive. Your main point seems to be that I accidentally disclosed a secret plan but unlike you, I am honest about Sox issues. The question was asked and I answered it.’’

Henry's email comes within days of the Red Sox agreeing to a one-year, $27M contract with Betts on Friday to avoid arbitration. It's a record deal for an arbitration-eligible player. Betts, expected to command a multi-year deal worth $300M or more when he becomes a free agent after this season, is the third-highest paid player on the team. Pitchers Price ($32M and Chris Sale ($30M) top the payroll. 



The case for packaging Mookie Betts and David Price in a straight salary dump

The case for packaging Mookie Betts and David Price in a straight salary dump

The idea sounds positively repellant on first blush -- package David Price and Mookie Betts to the Dodgers (because let's be realistic, it can only be the Dodgers) in a salary dump.

No top-tier prospects. No impact players to give the Red Sox a chance in 2020. Just money coming off the books, and not all of it bad. How can a big-market team justify such a defeatist move when it negates the massive financial advantage the franchise holds over its rivals?

But the more I think about it, the more I believe that not only is the concept of a package deal acceptable, but it's the best course of action the Red Sox can take.

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The reality is that trading Price alone, while making long-term financial sense, severely decreases the likelihood that the Red Sox will contend in 2020. He probably represents the safest bet among the trio of overpaid wild cards in the Red Sox rotation, and removing him means either adding another starter on par with the recently signed Martin Perez -- his next ERA below 5.00 will be his first in three years -- or turning to an opener. 

And if that's the case, the Red Sox need to be sensible about the wisdom of retaining Betts for a lost season that ends with the former MVP walking in free agency.

As much as a win-now fan base might not want to hear it, the moves the Red Sox make this winter won't be about 2020, but whatever comes next as they address the organizational bloat that has left the franchise with the worst of both worlds -- an overpaid, underperforming roster.

Betts isn't part of that problem. If Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon are worth over $30 million annually, then Betts definitely is. Were the roster better-constructed, paying him his roughly $27 million in arbitration would be an easy decision, even at the risk that he simply plays out his contract and leaves.

But let's be clear-eyed about the 2020 Red Sox. They're coming off an 84-win season and will be betting heavily on the column marked "chance" if they expect Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi to pitch effectively after watching the three combine for barely 300 innings while battling an assortment of injuries that required two surgeries to fix.

I'm sympathetic to ownership's desire to drop the payroll below $208 million not because I care about John Henry's luxury tax payments -- he can afford them -- but because building a team under those constraints forces the implementation of a long-term plan that isn't simply, "Pay everyone."

Since the Yankees started shedding payroll in 2016, they've won 91, 100, and 103 games. That put them in a position to address their biggest area of need -- ace -- with a record $324 million contract for free agent Gerrit Cole this winter. 

Given the well-documented unreliability of pitchers in their 30s, the Yankees may come to regret this deal as much as the one the Red Sox gave Price, but at least it fit a long-term vision.

Between 2015 and 2018, the Dodgers lopped nearly $100 million of payroll. Since then, they've averaged 98 wins per season and reached a pair of World Series. They're now in a position to take on Betts and Price, should the Red Sox decide to sell. 

The merits of such a move are open to debate -- Price turns 35 in August and is still owed $96 million over the next three years -- but both moves once again fit a plan.

Then there are the Red Sox. They committed over $400 million to three pitchers with varying degrees of reliability issues that have only worsened with time. They're paying All-Stars Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez more than $20 million each (they're both worth it, by the way). They'd love to extend superstar-in-making Rafael Devers, but that can't happen unless they pare some serious payroll.

The players knew where this was headed all season.

"I think everyone knows we don't think they're going to be able to afford Mookie," Martinez told NBC Sports Boston on the last day of the season. "It's one of those things. It's kind of hard to have three guys making $30 million on your team. He deserves it. He's earned it."

A case can be made that no player is worth a 10- or 12-year contract, because too much can go wrong. For all his obvious greatness, Betts stands only 5-9 and relies on lightning-quick wrists to generate power. Red Sox fans need no reminder of what can happen to a hitter when his wrists or hands go, as they learned with both Nomar Garciaparra, and to a lesser extent, Dustin Pedroia. Betts would be right to demand a 12-year, $400 million contract. The Red Sox would be equally justified in declining such a massive commitment.

And so that brings us back to the dreaded salary dump. How can the Red Sox justify using Betts to force a team to take more of Price's salary? Easy: if including Betts means the Dodgers eat all $96 million of Price, the $16-$20 million in annual savings is more valuable than any mid-level prospect the Dodgers could realistically send in return (the Red Sox aren't getting top prospect Gavin Lux, for instance). Build a package around right-hander Tony Gonsolin and lesser prospects and make the Dodgers pay Price.

Add the $27 million Betts would've made this year, and now you're positioned to extend Devers at an age (23) when he's much more likely to deliver value through every season of an eight-year deal.

It would take guts on the part of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to make his first major move a straight salary dump, because if he deals Betts without receiving considerable talent in return, he's going to hear about it from irate fans.

But let's call this what it is: an organizational rebuild. Those inevitably start with some painful decisions, and the Red Sox might as well not so much dive into that pool as a cannonball.