With ace on board, Dombrowski keeps word to revamp Sox
By Richard Justice
The Boston Red Sox are now the American League East favorites, and isn't that the bottom line? Who else would you take? The Blue Jays? Sure, there's a case to be made for them repeating.
The Yankees? They're a fascinating blend of veterans and youth, and the future is unquestionably bright. The Orioles and Rays both have some work to do, so we'll take a second and third look as Opening Day approaches.
For now, though, it's the Red Sox. In a span of 19 days, new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has added two impact players -- a great closer in Craig Kimbrel, and on Tuesday, an elite starter in David Price for $217 million over seven years.
Indications are that Dombrowski isn't finished, that he may add another starting pitcher. That said, he has done plenty already.
When the Red Sox didn't add a bona fide No. 1 starter a year ago, some of us thought it was no big deal. We looked at a handful of guys who'd been top-of-the-rotation pitchers at different points in their careers and figured there was enough really good depth.
OK, bad call. Now there's no question about who'll have the baseball in his hand on April 4, when Boston opens the 2016 season in Cleveland. In six full seasons, Price has averaged 217 innings, 201 strikeouts and a 2.97 ERA. In that time, only two others -- Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez -- can beat those numbers.
In going 18-5 for the Tigers and Blue Jays last season, Price won the AL ERA title (2.45) and was third in innings (220 1/3) and fourth in strikeouts (225). Toronto was 9-2 in Price's starts as it sprinted from eight games out to win the AL East.
Yes, it's true that Price is winless in eight postseason starts with a 5.27 ERA. Some of that lack of success can be contributed to bad luck. Some of it is Price making a bad pitch at a terrible time, and he would be the first to acknowledge this.
"I've got to prove I can win at this time of the year," he said in October while pitching for the Blue Jays.
But the dominance Price has shown in 189 regular-season starts over the past six seasons can't be negated by eight postseason starts.
If you're thinking Fenway Park might be an issue, it hasn't been. In 11 career regular-season starts there, Price is 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA. In other words, this is a transformative day for the Red Sox, who've finished last in the AL East in back-to-back seasons since winning the 2013 World Series.
Offensively, there are few questions. Boston had the fourth-highest scoring offense in baseball last season as an assortment of young guys -- Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo -- got comfortable.
And there's that bullpen. Kimbrel's addition shifts Koji Uehara back to an eighth-inning role and allows manager John Farrell to use Junichi Tazawa, Matt Barnes and others to bridge the gap from the starters to the late guys.
There are legitimate questions about this group, and there are no guarantees. But the rotation -- indeed the entire club -- looks dramatically different with Price in the No. 1 spot.
As for Dombrowski's next big splash, there are possibilities. Would he go all-in for another starter, say Johnny Cueto or even Zack Greinke? In signing outfielder Chris Young, who has a career .837 OPS against left-handers, Dombrowski now has the flexibility to move an outfielder or a back-end starter to acquire another starter.
Everything begins with Price, who gives the Red Sox a presence they haven't had since Jon Lester was traded at the 2014 Trade Deadline.
Aces are different. They want the big games on their shoulders. They want to face the other team's best guy. They know it's their responsibility to give the bullpen a break and to end losing streaks.
Price has been that type of guy for virtually his entire Major League career in the regular season. He's one of those starters every other is measured against. Price is also a face-of-the-franchise type, a smart, personable man who will fit nicely in the fabric of what the Red Sox already have.
Dombrowski promised to be aggressive in remaking Boston's roster when he took over the baseball operations in August. He has done that, and quickly. Regardless of what else Dombrowski does, he has already reshaped the AL East. He hasn't just made the Red Sox relevant. He has made them the favorites.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.