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The Price of a World Series in Boston?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Price of a 2018 World Series for Boston

The Boston Red Sox are stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. They play in what is expected to be the only competitive division in the American League and a League overall that is starkly separated by the “have’s” and the “have not’s.”

The Indians are the plucky, “lower-budget” overachievers and the Yankees are the team on the rise while the Astros are coming off a World Series championship on their way to what many believe will be a second consecutive one.

With the trade for Chris Sale and the free agent signing of J.D. Martinez, Dave Dombrowski has put this team in position to turn an uphill climb into a World Series championship if one player pitched up to his potential, and his contract. That player is David Price.

The Boston Red Sox are coming off back-to-back American League East pennants with a roster of talented, young players. They can’t play the underdog card, even though many believe they are, and with a 2018 league high $223 million payroll they can’t cry poor or claim they can’t compete in an unbalanced financial system, even though it looks like they have maxed out their financial resources.

Dombrowski has made trades, signed free agents or benefited from his predecessors successful drafting and development of prospects and it is all of those things that could frame the narrative that buries this organization in the passionate minds of their fans.

They have one of the best overall players in baseball (Mookie Betts) and one of the few true aces (Chris Sale) to go along with young stars like Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers. They also have the sizzle and the swagger of a lightning-bolt hurling closer who slams the ninth inning door each night (Craig Kimbrel).

A roster like this is the envy of many fan bases from coast-to-coast and yet, in Boston, it could be their curse.

When an organization, in three consecutive offseasons, pays $30+ million a season for a starting pitcher (David Price), trades for one of the best pitchers in the American League (Chris Sale) and signs the top slugging free agent (J.D. Martinez) it creates lofty expectations. Those are the types of moves that fans, especially passionate Boston ones, demand of their general manager, and yet it is why they are in the hard place that they are this season.

On the field, they deserve to be compared to the best of their American League rivals, but without a dominant number two starter alongside Chris Sale come playoff time, it looks like they fall short on paper. They have the offense to compete, but they don’t have enough starting pitching to make a deep playoff run against the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros that already do or the minor league talent the Yankees have to acquire it. The national media isn’t going to make excuses for the Red Sox and their fans aren’t going to allow management off the hook if they don’t threaten for a World Series title. They won’t have to if David Price can pitch like a dominant number two starter rather than a disappointing, inconsistent low-end number three and off-the-field distraction.

Their Journey To Becoming Competitively Disappointing

The Minor Leagues - The Majors Supplement

Before Theo Epstein left the Red Sox for Chicago to run the Cubs he built one of the best young major league rosters and minor league systems in baseball. His replacement, Ben Cherington, kept the farm system humming and built a World Championship for 2013.

During a rough patch in 2015 Dave Dombrowski came to Boston to oversee operations, leading to Cherington’s resignation. Dombrowski then put his own stamp on the organization. Highly touted prospects like Manuel Margot and Anderson Espinoza went to San Diego, while Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are in Chicago playing for the White Sox organization.

You can argue whether Dombrowski overpaid to improve the major league roster or if he chose the wrong path for the organization, but what can’t be disputed is that the current management team has not replenished their minor league system. As a result, they lack the minor league assets clear the final hurdle major to seriously challenge a juggernaut like the Astros or even the Indians or up-and-coming Yankees.

Top pitching prospect, Jay Groome, has been a disappointment and will miss 10-18 months after having Tommy John surgery, while top hitting prospect Michael Chavis has been suspended 80 games after testing positive for a banned substance. Even if both were healthy and performing at a level that might tempt other organizations to trade for them, it’s unlikely that they profiled to be the kinds of players that would land the Red Sox a top starting pitcher to upgrade the front of their rotation behind Chris Sale.

If they did, then David Price could slide in as their number three starter, contribute 170-190 effective innings during the regular season and be their fallback starter or impact left-hander out the bullpen in the playoffs.

As things stand, Price is one of the keys to whether they win the division or settle for a do or die Wild Card play-in game. If they win that game, they will be the clear underdogs against an Indians rotation of Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco or an Astros staff that is the best in baseball unless David Price can pitch like a $30 million top-of-the-rotation number two.

The key to this Red Sox team making the playoffs is Craig Kimbrel. They have the overall talent on offense, defense and in the pitching staff to outlast the majority of the lesser American League teams, even if injuries were to hit. If they lost Craig Kimbrel for any significant amount of time their bullpen would be such a significant weak spot that it could jeopardize the season. However, the key to whether they win the division or make a serious, deep run at the World Series is David Price. He has to pitch like his dollars suggest he can because an “innings-eating” David Price, Rick Porcello and Drew Pomeranz aren’t going to win two or three games per playoff series against the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton or Lance McCullers.

That’s the hard place the Red Sox are in. They are too young, too talented and too financially successful to make any credible argument that they shouldn’t be a World Series contender, but they don’t look like they are and they don’t have the minor league assets to acquire what it will take to be one. The only realistic way this organization can win become a serious World Series contender is if David Price can become what the Red Sox paid him all those free agent dollars to be.

If he does that, Price will likely opt out of his current deal to pitch for another organization with another enormous free agent contract. Ask the Boston fan base and media if a World Series title followed by David Price opting out would be to their liking I suspect you would hear a violently aggressive YES. The Red Sox and their possible narratives. It’s never boring in Boston, but it may not be a smooth October on Yawkey Way.