David Price's $217M deal signals start of Boston's bold Dave Dombrowski era

In his first days as the president of the Boston Red Sox, Dave Dombrowski met with the most influential people at Fenway Park to get a better sense of the organization he was inheriting. More than his commanding presence or savoir-faire, what struck some of the highest ranking in the organization was the bluntness with which Dombrowski asked a simple question.

How could he convince ownership to let him sign David Price?

Dombrowski believes in the power of great starting pitching, and he'd seen the magic of the 30-year-old Price first-hand after trading for him last year when running the Detroit Tigers. Tasked with retooling the Red Sox after consecutive last-place finishes in the American League East, Dombrowski cringed at a rotation in desperate need of frontline starting pitching and pegged a hard-throwing, 6-foot-6 left-hander with consummate command and even better clubhouse presence as the archetypal fit.

Convincing Red Sox ownership to pony up when it refused to go anywhere near nine figures for the homegrown, World Series-winning, cancer-surviving Jon Lester barely a year earlier would be Dombrowski's greatest task in theory. Reality, of course, gave us this truth: The Red Sox didn't hire Dombrowski to be like Andrew Friedman and bring principles like surplus value and efficiency to the Red Sox. They brought him in to make big, bold, brash maneuvers, and tightening his purse strings would go against the entire rationale behind jettisoning Ben Cherington for Dombrowski.

David Price was traded from the Tigers to the Blue Jays midway through last season. (AP)
David Price was traded from the Tigers to the Blue Jays midway through last season. (AP)

And so in the end, when Dombrowski presented Price with the largest contract ever handed to a pitcher, and when Price agreed to it Tuesday and stayed in his AL East stomping grounds where he'd turned into a star, Dombrowski's query a couple months earlier seemed in hindsight almost like a temperature-taker instead of a genuine question seeking an answer.

How could he convince ownership to let him sign David Price? The answer, it turned out, was by being Dave Dombrowski. And this is something that comes with its benefits, as it seemed to Tuesday when Price settled on the Red Sox's seven-year, $217 million deal with an opt-out clause after the third season and no deferred money – a contract $2 million richer than Clayton Kershaw's and, at $31 million a year, tied with old teammate Miguel Cabrera for the biggest per annum. It also weds the Red Sox to a starting pitcher through his 37th birthday, which contradicts the entire fashion in which Boston owner John Henry wanted to build his team.

The culprit, in this instance, is not Dombrowski himself but what spurred his hiring: losing. The Red Sox lost badly for two straight years and three of four, and even if a World Series-winning season was the anomalous one, it wasn't enough to allay Boston's fears about its process. In truth, this idea is ridiculous, particularly for someone like Henry who built his fortune refusing to allow emotions to dictate positions in commodities.

The Dombrowski Era is a strictly emotional response to a sample that, over time, almost certainly would have evened itself out. Look at what he inherited: an up-the-middle core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia and Blake Swihart; a minor league system so stocked with talent that a number of evaluators believe it's the best in the game; and a payroll annually among the game's five highest. This is not a bad lot in life. The Hanley Ramirez and Rick Porcello contracts are messes, and the Pablo Sandoval one may yet join them, and yet the solution is to bring in a baseball-operations head whose specialty is trafficking in big-ticket items?

Life is good when you can give a guy $30 million and fill the closer's spot by buying one of the game's finest in Craig Kimbrel for four prospects. Use the money. Use the farm system. That's the Dombrowski way, and, hey, it helped him turn a 119-loss Detroit team into one that won four straight division titles and made two World Series.

Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski knows Price from his time in Detroit. (AP)
Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski knows Price from his time in Detroit. (AP)

As much as Dombrowski wanted Price and his career 3.09 ERA over 1,441 2/3 innings, he's done this enough to understand that money doesn't always talk. The St. Louis Cardinals made a spirited run that forced Boston to up its offer at the end. The Red Sox wound up giving Price $82 million more than they offered Lester. More, too, than they would've given Zack Greinke, whose desire to wrap up his free agency soon forced the Red Sox to push Price to close a deal, and more than they would've paid for Johnny Cueto, whom sources told Yahoo Sports they'd also pursued.

Price was the prize ultimately, and the Red Sox are building the look of a legitimate AL East contender again. Plenty must go right. They need a healthy Clay Buchholz, a breakout Eduardo Rodriguez and a better Porcello behind Price. They could use superstar turns from Bogaerts and Betts, plus returns to form from Sandoval and Ramirez, should they both return to Boston and not find themselves out as part of Dombrowski's master plan.

Over the last decade, as the Tigers lavished monstrous contracts on Cabrera and Justin Verlander, the sentiment was that Detroit owner Mike Ilitch flung around his money and Dombrowski was merely the beneficiary. And yet here he is, in a different city, with a different organization, doing what he does so well. The genius of Dombrowski isn't any particular facet as much as the gravitas that allows him to operate in the fashion he desires. Every executive seeks autonomy. Dombrowski, in one of the most difficult places to find it, is using it to bully his competitors.

So no matter how much Price wanted to go to the Chicago Cubs – and he did – and no matter how close he was to going to St. Louis – and he was – in came Dombrowski with the sort of money that makes a man forget his desires. He bought seven years of David Price and everything that comes with it.

And the rest of baseball took notice. The days of Red Sox austerity are over. The Dave Dombrowski Era is just beginning, and if it follows form, it'll be bigger and bolder and brasher than the Red Sox ever imagined they'd be.

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