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The Red Sox' signing of David Price, shown in action against Atlanta in September, is a statement that they mean business heading into 2016. USA TODAY Sports 

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Sox not playing games


Back on Oct. 13, about a week into the playoffs, while still two weeks from some course-charting organizational meetings, Dave Dombrowski was asked if his Red Sox could be contenders in 2016. He answered with purposed optimism.

“I think we have a chance to be competitive next year,” said the club’s president of baseball operations. “First and foremost we’ve talked about trying to improve our pitching staff — our starters and our bullpen. That’ll be a primary focus of what we go after … Those are areas we want to improve.

“The rest of the club is pretty well set from a positional player perspective; we will need an extra outfielder to complement our young outfielders that we have on our club at this point.”

There, in plain language, was the outline of a plan. Leaving little mystery, Dombrowski went on to say the mission wasn’t necessarily to remake the entire rotation, but rather to add “that one guy that maybe can be your horse.” He explained that while Koji Uehara was a capable closer, the Sox “want an arm out there that can be a power arm.” He said Boston sought a fourth outfielder whose defense was good enough that he could play center field.

Then, in a span of seven weeks, Dombrowski went out and satisfied his entire wish list. And did so in a decisive, driven way that should have Red Sox fans excited for the future, even if they’re unsure about the players the team has acquired or the resources it’s spent to do so.

Craig Kimbrel cost the Sox three players now considered Nos. 1, 2 and 8 on the Padres’ top prospects list. Chris Young is a player whose limits explain why the Sox are his fifth team since 2012. And bringing David Price to Boston reportedly required the biggest contract ever given to a pitcher, even though history suggests he won’t live up to it as he ages.

But Dombrowski was hired in August with a directive to be bold, to change the direction of the franchise and, given his history, to target stars to lead that process.

Not only has he done that, but he’s done it with a near-ruthless aggressiveness. Knowing what they needed, Sox brass didn’t wait for the market to develop. They didn’t wait to react to other moves, try to find value on the scrap heap, rr wait for the Winter Meetings, which begin Sunday.

Instead, the Sox set their sights and acted fast. The list of elite closers available was limited to Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman, so Boston didn’t drag its feet for fear it might miss out. Young was described Wednesday as their first choice for his role, so the club contacted his representatives right away to begin conversations.

Then Tuesday, according to USA Today, the Sox exceeded the Cardinals’ competitive offer to Price and requested an answer by the end of the day. Meanwhile, they were also engaged in talks with Zack Greinke. They’d clearly identified those two perennial Cy Young favorites as the prizes on the pitching market, and weren’t willing to settle for choosing from the next tier.

After five years in which Boston’s front-office philosophy has seemed to be continuously evolving on the fly, to see the Sox make a plan, make it public, then make it happen so quickly surely seems like a step in the right direction.

And while the 30-year-old Price comes with legitimate concerns, and questions, particularly at an average cost of $31 million a year, his potential short-term impact could be significant enough to make the Sox instant contenders.

The 2012 Cy Young winner, and the AL award’s runner-up for a third time in 2015, Price is a better No. 1 starter than the Sox would’ve had if they’d signed Jon Lester before he left in 2014. With him at the top, the rotation trickle down slots guys like Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and perhaps Joe Kelly in roles more representative of their abilities. And, who knows, the Sox still have enough to make a trade for a truer No. 2 if they choose.

And while Price’s 5.12 postseason earned run average may be a red flag, word of his signing broke four years to the day after the Red Sox announced the hiring of Bobby Valentine. The club has finished in last place three times since. Before worrying about the playoffs, Boston has to first focus on getting there and there may not be a handful of arms more helpful for that purpose than Price’s left.

In a best-case scenario, Price’s performance matches his paycheck over the next three seasons, he thinks he can make more than $127 million with one more chance at free agency, and he exercises his choice to opt out of the deal.

That would give Boston a chance to reassess and possibly reconsider the latter half of the commitment. But even if Price stays for all seven years, the risk is that by the end he’s overpaid. And considering seven years ago the average of baseball’s 10 highest-paid pitchers was $15.3 million, or roughly half of Price’s annual salary, it’s hard to say how much a 36-year-old Price will be worth.

What’s not hard to say is that the Red Sox are less worried about what the deal gives them in 2022 than what dividends it pays in 2016 because there’s clearly an immediacy not just to win, but to do what they believe it’ll take to win.

And that should encourage their fans as much as it does their players.

“It’s a great feeling to be on a team that’s trying to make those moves to make a big difference and go all the way,” Young said Wednesday. “Those aren’t moves to just try to contend. Those are moves that are made with the big picture in mind, and trying to win a World Series, and I think that sends a message to your team.

“I think that sends a message to the fans of what the goal is. And I think that’s extremely inspiring and motivating, and it makes you show up for spring training with a different mindset.”

Pitchers and catchers report in just 76 days.

Dave D’Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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