After winning the World Series in 2004, the Red Sox let Pedro Martinez depart as a free agent. The team still had Curt Schilling to slot in as the ace while adding Matt Clement and David Wells to fill out the staff behind him. A diminished Schilling and up-and-down staff didn’t really give Boston a number one. So after the season they brought one in: Josh Beckett.
Coming off his age-25 season, Beckett had already obtained fame in 2003 while powering the then-Florida Marlins to a World Series title—against the Yankees, of all teams. In the next two years, though, he would fail to take the leap from postseason hero to regular season ace. Beckett’s strikeout rates were about 23 percent in those two years; his walk rates were a little high—8 percent—and his innings totals fell short of 200 due to injuries and recurring blister problems.
At the time, Beckett was still a breakout candidate. Acquiring him cost the Red Sox dearly. Hanley Ramírez and Anibal Sánchez were the two main pieces of the trade, along with Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia. Boston also had to take on the contract of third baseman Mike Lowell. Having hit .277/.346/.477 from 1998 to 2004, Lowell put up at dismal .236/.298/.360 at age 31. His stock was at an all-time low. The Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 knowing that Hanley was on his way. They took on the money for Lowell because they were getting an ace.
Beckett, Ramírez, and Sánchez all performed well for a good part of the next ten years. Lowell bounced back as quickly and became a fan favorite. The deal ended up working out for both sides, although maybe the Sox gave up too much. But flags fly forever and Beckett’s 2007 postseason was one for the ages, allowing a total of four runs in three series.
In the winter of 2005, the Red Sox found an ace on the trade market.
They famously went into the 2015 season without a clear number one. There were t-shirts and everything to show how bold the strategy was.
Here is Wade Miley modeling new t-shirts pic.twitter.com/ikcfE25fqK
— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) March 5, 2015
In the winter of 2015, it was assumed they’d follow the prospect-for-ace plan again. Names like Tyson Ross, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg, and Sonny Gray were thrown around. Cole Hamels was mentioned throughout the 2015 season—until he was traded to the Rangers—but the prices were high. But with a deep farm system, anything was possible.
A large package of prospects—Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Logan Allen, and Carlos Asuaje—fetched the Sox a closer in Craig Kimbrel. While opinions can differ, there may not be a Hanley Ramírez among the group (although Manuel Margot could be excellent). Kimbrel did come with several years of control, and a large package of prospects fetched far fewer innings-per-season a decade later.
This resulted in signing David Price to one of the largest contracts in history: $217 million over seven years. The Sox aversion to long-term deals to pitchers went out the window, but Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Max Scherzer follow the trend: aces get big money over many years. That’s just the cost of doing business.
What else changed for the Sox? Well, in 2005 Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer were co-interim GMs while Theo Epstein took an unexpected sabbatical. Both men were in the mold of Epstein. Even before the Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford contracts, Boston wasn’t exactly running out and signing C.C. Sabathia, either. Dave Dombrowski, the new president and guiding voice of the front office, is known for making big splashes. Part of that definitely came from the Detroit ownership, but he hasn’t been afraid to sign and—as we saw with Prince Fielder—trade large contracts.
Unlike Beckett, Price is 30, not 25. He’s already won a Cy Young award and has finished in second place twice. He’s been a 200-inning horse. While Price doesn’t have the postseason feather in his cap yet, he’s the finished product walking into the Boston clubhouse.
2006 was a rough year for Beckett, but 2007 was magical. 2016 is Price’s first year in Boston, but he’s still in the AL East.This season, the Red Sox should have their ace from day one and they didn’t have to give up Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts (or their successors on the farm like Yoan Moncada) to get him.