Red Sox: What a serious injury to David Price would mean

Sep 27, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) reacts after giving up a two-run home run to New York Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin (26) during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 27, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) reacts after giving up a two-run home run to New York Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin (26) during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

What will the Boston Red Sox do if the news on pitcher David Price’s elbow soreness turns out to be the worst case scenario?

The Boston Red Sox are holding their collective breaths awaiting a second opinion on the ailing elbow of left-handed pitcher David Price.

The team hasn’t revealed the results of the MRI that Price underwent on Wednesday, but it’s safe to say it raised some serious red flags. Anytime an athlete goes to visit renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, the automatic reaction is always to assume the worst.

So what do the Red Sox do if the worst case scenario were to occur, forcing Price to go under the knife for the dreaded Tommy John surgery that would end his 2017 season before it begins?

Losing Price would be a devastating blow to Boston’s championship aspirations, but the front office must be careful not to overreact with a shortsighted move. The rotation remains strong, with reigning Cy Young Rick Porcello and newcomer Chris Sale providing as good as any one-two punch in baseball. Dave Dombrowski doesn’t need to mortgage more of the future to deal for another ace – he already has two of them.

The Red Sox also have depth. One of the top storylines this spring was the battle for the final rotation spots behind their trio of aces, but if Price is indeed taken out of the equation this season then there will be plenty of room for Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz. Each of those three has had their own injury concerns this spring, but they’ve all resumed throwing and are back on track to be available to start the season. Good thing, considering the Red Sox may end up needing all three of them in the rotation after all.

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A rotation of Porcello, Sale, Rodriguez, Wright and Pomeranz is still very good. Three of those guys made the All-Star team last year and another ended up being the best pitcher in the league by season’s end. The Red Sox won their division last year despite a down year from Price in which he posted a 3.99 ERA. All of the other pitchers that would make up this rotation without him are capable of giving the team at least that level of production, if not better.

Here’s what they can’t give them – Price’s workload. The veteran lefty has logged 200+ innings in six of the last seven seasons. He’s tossed a staggering 698 2/3 innings over the past three seasons, more than any pitcher in baseball. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 10,713 pitches that Price has thrown over the past three years is also the most in the majors. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Price’s elbow may be giving out – it was essentially a ticking time bomb with that amount of mileage on his arm.

The 230 innings that Price gave the Red Sox last season may need to be covered by other pitchers on the staff, but it will take more than one. Pomeranz sailed past his career-high with 170 innings last year, while Wright’s 150 2/3 innings more than doubled his previous total at the major league level. Even when accounting for his track record in the minors, the knuckleball pitcher has never logged more than 170 2/3 innings in a single season and the last time he came anywhere near that total was 2012. The 170 innings that E-Rod pitched between Boston and Pawtucket in 2015 is the most he’s ever been used. None of those guys can be counted on for 200+ innings, let alone matching Price’s workload.

The addition of Sale will help, but it’s not enough to make up for Price’s workload. If the starters at the back end of the rotation aren’t up to the task, those extra innings are going to fall on the bullpen. Red Sox relievers logged the third fewest innings in the league last season with 470 1/3, but that number will surely rise if Price isn’t in the rotation. Restocking the bullpen was a point of emphasis this winter and those new pieces may be needed even more than the team anticipated.

The rotation being able to survive without Price also assumes that the rest of the staff remains healthy. The options waiting in the wings down in Pawtucket don’t inspire much confidence if the team is forced to turn to them for any extended period. Boston doesn’t need to rush out and trade for another top starter if Price is ruled out for the season, but they’ll have some back of the rotation type pitchers on their radar for a potential mid-season trade if one of their other starters hits the disabled list. Is it too late to bring back Clay Buchholz?

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The Red Sox already suffered a tremendous loss with the retirement of David Ortiz. Rather than attempt the impossible task of replacing his bat in the lineup, the front office focused on improving the pitching staff to offset the expected dip in run production. That plan may backfire if Price is out.

This will still be a very good Red Sox team even without Price. They would still be capable of winning the division, although they would no longer be considered heavy favorites to repeat. Their World Series hopes would become more of a long shot, unless you want to try to argue that Price’s postseason track record is an indication they are better off without him. You’d be wrong, but feel free to try to make that point.

As for the long-term ramifications if Price does need surgery, that would depend on how well he bounces back in 2018. It’s not uncommon for pitchers to regain their previous form following Tommy John surgery, but it won’t necessarily happen right away. It may take him time to ramp back up to the level he’s accustomed too and the Red Sox will certainly be cautious with his workload. A serious injury like this would not only wipe out his 2017 season, but could also negatively effect the following year as well.

We would also likely be able to count out the chances of Price opting out of his contract after next season. If anyone was counting on Price taking advantage of that clause in order to cash in with another huge payday with another team, allowing Boston to escape the back end of the deal, it may be time to abandon that hope. The Red Sox are still on the hook for $187 million over the next six years, at least $30 million of which Price will collect without throwing a single pitch if he needs surgery.

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The Red Sox are rightfully concerned about their prized pitcher, but it’s not time to panic yet. A second opinion could determine that surgery isn’t necessary, so let’s not rule Price out yet. The worst case scenario seems devastating, but even if the season is already over for Price, it doesn’t necessarily mean Boston’s chances are over too.