In the winter of 2014, Jon Lester was the big name free agent to hit the market. The Cubs ended up signing him to a six-year, $155M contract. The following winter, David Price was the big name free agent. Lester’s has a $25.8M per year, with Price at $30M annually. Here’s why the Red Sox made a huge mistake.
Lester said that he would take a discount, making it easier for the Red Sox to sign him. NESN reported that he probably would have signed a five-year extension worth $120M (24 per). In 113 starts as a Cub, Lester has a 3.09 ERA. Lester’s 3.09 ERA since 2015 ranks 10th in the MLB, minimum 500 innings pitched, one spot below Chris Sale. So the Red Sox could have two top-ten pitchers in the league right now. In eleven postseason starts, he has a 1.63 ERA since 2015, and he won the 2016 NLCS MVP.
After a rough 2015 when Clay Buchholz was the opening day starter, the Red Sox needed to go out and make a big move. They were competing with the Cardinals, so they upped their offer to a seven-year, $217M dollar contract (31 per). Since 2016, Price has a 3.95 ERA in Boston. Price’s 3.95 ERA ranks 27th in the majors since 2016, minimum 400 innings pitched. He ranks third in annual salary, with his 27th slot in the majors is not good enough. In three postseason games as a Red Sox, he has a 4.50 ERA and a 13.50 ERA in his only start.
The Red Sox have won the division both years Price has been in Boston, but they are 1-6 in the playoff games. In his only start against the Indians, Price gave up five runs in 3.1 innings and took the loss. To Price’s credit, he pitched well against the Astros in the bullpen. Lester’s Cubs went to the NLCS in 2015 and 2017 and won the World Series in 2016. Lester is more clutch and trustworthy than Price and is on a better contract. Price is 32 and could opt out of his contract after this year, but I doubt he will given his struggles. I do not like watching a 32-year-old David Price, and I am certainly not looking forward to watching a 36-year-old David Price.
I believe this is the dumbest move ownership has made in the last decade. Some may make the case for the Ramirez and Pablo signing, letting Epstein and Francona go, or something else. But with the difference in money and performance, the decision not to sign Lester and to sign Price is the worst one. There is not a huge difference in money, but the money could be better spent elsewhere. Price is going to get worse as he ages, and the contract is going to look worse and worse each year.