Before I get started on what is probably a ton of information no one needs, I’ll point out this is only relevant if David Price is included in a trade for Mookie Betts. There’s no reason to help the Red Sox clear a bunch of money unless Betts is included in a deal — and paranoia in me worries the Red Sox clearing money now would mean they could just try and sign Betts in free agency next year after trading him.
While the Dodgers have seemingly been apprehensive about spending significant money in free agency, Price’s deal would equate to something similar to a high AAV, short-term contract (even if it is for his age 34, 35 and 36 seasons) and it would come with the clear incentive of adding one of the best players in baseball.
With that said, here’s a look at Price from a few different points of view.
Price is still owed $96 million across the next three years after signing a 7-year, $217 million deal in December 2015. Entering his age-30 season, Price threw 230 innings and finished with 4.4 WAR in 2016. The past three years haven’t been nearly as successful, with Price totaling 6.2 WAR in 63 starts from 2017 to 2019.
While the production has been a disappointment based on the contract he signed (the Red Sox have paid $11.41 million per 1.0 WAR in the first four years of the deal), Price probably wouldn’t struggle to find a decent deal if he was a free agent this offseason.
Madison Bumgarner’s 5-year, $85 million deal with the Diamondbacks reportedly came as a discount, with “at least two offers worth at least $100 million over five years” allegedly offered to the former Giant. Bumgarner’s last four seasons with the Giants resulted in 10.5 WAR in 106 starts, with a 4.3 WAR season in 2016 the ceiling and the 1.4 WAR season in 2018 the floor.
Price’s same stretch? Well, it included 10.6 WAR in 98 starts, with that 4.4 WAR 2016 season the best of the four and a 1.5 WAR 2017 (when he pitched in just 16 games, including 11 starts) the worst. While Price is four years older, he’s at just 183 2/3 more innings than Bumgarner in their respective careers.
While a contract for Hyun-Jin Ryu would make an estimation for Price a bit easier, he’s still expected to get a minimum of 4 years, $80 million according to Ken Rosenthal. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels signed a 1-year, $18 million deal with the Braves entering his age-36 season after finishing with 2.5 WAR in 2019.
Based on little else, it seems Price probably could have signed for somewhere between $54 and $60 million for these next 3 years. (The Dodgers did give Rich Hill $48 million across 3 years in 2016 for his age 37 to 39 seasons).
Using Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections, FanGraphs actually beat me to a similar estimation. Price’s projected WAR across the final three years of his season totals 6.0 WAR (2.4 in 2020, 1.9 in 2021 and 1.7 in 2022). Still using the $9 million per win estimate for free-agent deals, Price’s value still comes in at around $54 million according to people smarter than I am. But in either my more bold estimate or FanGraphs’ slightly more conservative approach, Price’s current contract is somewhere between $36 to $42 million more than he is going to be worth.
However, those ZiPS WAR projections assume Price is going to keep missing starts. The estimate includes 23 starts for 2020, 21 in 2021 and 20 in 2022, which Price did top in both 2016 (35) and 2018 (30). Some of Price’s peripherals while in Boston haven’t changed too drastically since that 4.4 WAR season in 2016.
Additionally, Price’s K% finished in the 24.0% range for three straight seasons before jumping back up to 28.0% in 2019. Similarly, his BB% ranged between 6.9% and 7.6% the past three years. While I wouldn’t expect another 230-inning season like 2016 from Price, if he put in a few 150-170 inning seasons he might be able to beat out his WAR estimations from ZiPS.
Looking back to the day Price signed his contract in 2015, I went through the largest pitcher contracts at the time to see how they all panned out. Price doesn’t fare too well in these so far, but he isn’t quite the worst deal of them all.
|Pitcher, age signed||Contract terms||Total WAR and seasons played||WAR per season||Million per 1 WAR|
|David Price, age 30||7 years, $217 million||10.6 in 4 seasons||2.65 WAR||$11.41 million|
|Felix Hernandez, age 27||7 years, $175 million||15.9 in 7 seasons||2.27 WAR||$11 million|
|Masahiro Tanaka, age 25||7 years, $155 million||18.1 in 6 seasons||3.01 WAR||$7.29 million|
|Jon Lester, age 31||6 years, $155 million||16.8 in 5 seasons||3.36 WAR||$6.54 million|
|Cole Hamels, age 29||6 years, $144 million||20.9 in 6 seasons||3.48 WAR||$6.88 million|
|CC Sabathia, age 28||7 years, $161 million||24.5 in 7 seasons||3.5 WAR||$6.57 million|
|Zack Greinke, age 32||6 years, $206.5 million||15.4 in 4 seasons||3.85 WAR||$8.86 million|
|Justin Verlander, age 30||7 years, $180 million||33.6 in 7 seasons||4.8 WAR||$5.35 million|
|Clayton Kershaw, age 26 season||5 years, $150 million*||30.4 in 5 seasons||6.08 WAR||$4.93 million|
|Max Scherzer, age 30||7 years, $210 million||32.5 in 5 seasons||6.5 WAR||$4.29 million|
*I changed Kershaw’s contract to what it ended up being before last offseason’s extension effectively replaced the final two years and $65 million.
Lester hasn’t broken 3.0 WAR since 2016 and is trending in the wrong direction with 2 years and $45 million remaining on his contract (if the Cubs are serious about trading Kris Bryant, I’d be trying to include Lester in a deal). Otherwise, Price has only outplayed Hernandez (who last broke 3.0 WAR in 2014).
In short, the Red Sox signed Price to a bad deal (even if he pitched incredibly well against the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series, finishing with two wins and a 1.98 ERA in 13 2/3 innings). There’s probably about $40 million (at least) in lost value going forward, so eating all of Price’s remaining contract is no small task. But there’s reason to believe Price may at least be useful for part of the remaining deal.
If taking on all or most of Price’s contract means getting Betts and sending less in return to Boston, I think my opinion (and others who write at this site) is probably obvious. It wouldn’t even be the first time the Dodgers took on a pretty bad contract from the Red Sox (Carl Crawford‘s 4.3 WAR for $100+ million is going to be hard to top).