Four winters ago, the Boston Red Sox gave David Price the richest contract for a pitcher in major league history. The seven-year, $217-million deal symbolized his standing in the sport after beginning his professional career as the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. He was one of baseball’s best pitchers, a desired player a deep-pocketed club with championship aspirations aggressively courted.
This winter, that contract was an albatross the Red Sox sought to discard. To do so, they agreed Tuesday to trade him with All-Star outfielder Mookie Betts to the Dodgers as part of a three-team deal with the Minnesota Twins, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
The trade, which would include the Dodgers sending outfielder Alex Verdugo to the Red Sox and right-hander Kenta Maeda to the Twins, isn’t official. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Red Sox are holding up the transaction after reviewing Twins right-hander Brusdar Graterol’s medical records. Graterol, a 21-year-old prospect, would go to Boston in the proposed exchange. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016 and missed two months with a shoulder impingement last season. The Red Sox may seek a change in the agreement to proceed.
Further, the portion of the $96 million owed to Price over the next three years that the Red Sox have agreed to pay is unclear. Regardless of the amount, Price is essentially a sunk cost the Dodgers are willing to absorb to add the dynamic Betts even if he is in Los Angeles for just this season. But the 34-year-old Price isn’t just any throw-in.
Before Price’s contract became a problem in Boston, the left-hander helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2018. He shed his previous playoff struggles during the run, limiting the Dodgers to one run in seven innings in the title-clinching Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.
He owns a 3.31 earned-run average across parts of 12 seasons. His 150 victories are eighth among active pitchers. He won the 2012 American League Cy Young Award and came in second twice.
If healthy, Price can bolster a Dodgers rotation that lost left-handers Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill to free agency this offseason. Price could find more success working in the National League, where lineups feature pitchers; in the NL West, where the ballparks are spacious; and by just getting out of the AL East, where offenses are often relentless.
If the trade is executed, the Dodgers rotation options include Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Price, Julio Urías, Alex Wood, Jimmy Nelson, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. They should have enough depth to keep Price’s workload manageable and maximize his chances of being healthy in October.
But nothing is guaranteed. Injuries hounded Price during his four-year tenure in Boston. Elbow trouble limited him to 74 2/3 innings in 2017. Last season, he battled elbow tendinitis and a cyst in his left wrist. He totaled 107 1/3 innings across 22 starts.
His performance waned too. Price posted a 3.84 ERA in his four seasons with the Red Sox. Last season, he pitched to a 4.28 ERA, his highest mark since his rookie season in 2009. The sample size suggests his days as an elite pitcher are behind him. He is not the pitcher he was when he signed his record-setting contract.
The Dodgers began this offseason by recruiting Gerrit Cole, the best player on the free-agent market. They envisioned partnering Cole, a 29-year-old right-hander in his prime, alongside Buehler atop the rotation and offered him an eight-year, $300-million contract with some deferred money.
The pact would’ve shattered the record for a pitcher. It would’ve been the Dodgers’ first nine-digit expenditure during Andrew Friedman’s tenure as president of baseball of operations. The Dodgers wanted him badly.
But Cole chose to sign with the New York Yankees for nine years and $324 million. The Dodgers were forced to regroup and evaluate other options in their pursuit of a superstar player this winter. A week before spring training, they may have landed one in Betts, but he may not be the only reinforcement for October.