Are we sure the Boston Red Sox should go after David Price in MLB free agency?


One of the top priorities for the Boston Red Sox overhauled front office is finding a top of the rotation starting pitcher to lead their staff. David Price has been among the best pitchers in baseball over the past half dozen years and is set to hit free agency this winter. It all lines up for the Red Sox to become serious bidders for the talented lefty, but are we sure that we want him?

Let’s start with the obvious reasons that make him an enticing option. Price led the league with a 2.45 ERA this season, while finishing 2nd with a 6.0 WAR and 4th with 225 strikeouts. He’s a workhorse, piling up over 200 innings for the 5th time in the last 6 years, making no fewer than 27 starts since his rookie season. Price is as durable and dependable as they come. With a Cy Young award on his resume, he also has the hardware to prove his elite status. His mid-season arrival in Toronto helped fuel the Blue Jays’ surge to the division title, which may lead to him adding another award to his trophy case.

So what’s not to like? His outing on Thursday stands as a reminder that Price isn’t without his flaws. The Texas Rangers roughed him up for 5 runs over 7 innings in Game 1 of the ALDS, handing Price his 6th career postseason loss in as many starts. Price is the only pitcher in MLB history to lose each of his first 6 career postseason starts, which also puts him one loss shy of matching the record for the longest career postseason losing streak.

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To be fair, not all of those losses can be pinned on Price. He took the loss in his only postseason start last year, despite holding the Baltimore Orioles to a pair of runs over 8 innings. He also initially made his mark on the league coming out of the bullpen for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, earning a win and a save during a series with the Red Sox.

Price’s playoff history hasn’t been all bad, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of good. Thursday’s shellacking raised his career postseason ERA to 4.79, well above his career ERA in the regular season of 3.09.

Red Sox fans remember well Price’s 7-run meltdown in the 2013 ALDS that gave Boston a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. David Ortiz chased Price from that game with a pair of home runs, which ignited a feud between the division rivals when Price took exception to Ortiz hesitating to watch his blast wrap around the Pesky Pole. The next time they met the following April, Price drilled Ortiz with a fastball in his first trip to the plate, which Ortiz would later proclaim was an action that signaled that they were at “war.” You think Big Papi would be thrilled to sit in the same dugout as Price?

About a year ago the Red Sox were in a similar situation when they were trying to weigh the risks of signing Jon Lester to a lavish free agent contract. The former Red Sox ace ultimately signed with the Chicago Cubs, who made him the third highest paid pitcher in baseball on an average annual basis. Lester’s great, but few would consider him to be anywhere near the top-3 pitchers in the game. Yet many Red Sox fans that remain bitter about losing Lester point to his stellar postseason resume as one of the primary reasons why he was worth overpaying for.

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As good as Lester has been in his career, there’s no doubting that Price has the superior numbers in the regular season. That’s not the case in the postseason though, where Lester is a proven winner with a pair of championship rings. If Red Sox fans were willing to pay more for Lester because of what he has done in the playoffs, doesn’t it stand to reason that Price’s value would take a hit due to his postseason struggles?

Price is clearly better than any starter the Red Sox currently have. Adding him to this rotation would be a significant upgrade, which could potentially be a difference maker in whether or not Boston makes the playoffs next season. The problem is that we don’t know what to expect from Price once we get to October. Boston isn’t a city that is satisfied with merely making the playoffs. Only championships matter. If the Red Sox are going to splurge on a pitcher that could earn as much as $25 million per year, it better be a guy that they can trust to lead the rotation in a playoff series. Price’s track record in the postseason is littered reasons that make you question if he can be that guy.

There will be a team that rewards Price with one of the richest contracts ever given to a pitcher. It might even be the Red Sox, but if Boston’s front office once again decides not to get caught up in a bidding war for another over-30 starter, just know that there are reasons to question if he is worth the price.