Red Sox: What happens if David Price misses significant time?

Aug 25, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price (24) looks on during the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 25, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price (24) looks on during the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox and David Price will begin to evaluate his injured left elbow as he resumes throwing this weekend.

The two phrases no fan ever wants to see in conjunction when discussing a star pitcher are ‘elbow soreness’ and ‘Dr. Andrews.’ It has now been more than a week since David Price underwent an MRI on his left elbow and consulted the doctor. All things considered, the news that he won’t require surgery and will instead rest and medicate before rehabing is the best case scenario. On Wednesday, John Farrell told reporters that he will resume a throwing program either Friday or Saturday, leaving the decision up to Price himself.

On the surface, this all looks positive; Price dodged a bullet by avoiding surgery, took a week off to recover, and is expected to test his arm again within the next 48 hours. But the Red Sox aren’t out of the woods yet.

Pitchers that visit Dr. Andrews don’t go to learn about the newest developments in orthopedic surgery. Of the last ten players to visit him for consultation, seven have undergone Tommy John surgery and all have had their season’s ended.

If you’re looking for a silver lining – in addition to not needing surgery – an injection in his elbow wasn’t required, indicating that he didn’t have any structural damage in his elbow.

Given the timeline for recovery, there is the significant possibility that Price starts the season on the DL. Both sides are prepared to take this slowly, which looks like the smart move in the long run. But only time well tell how severe his injury really is. It could be a case in which he just has acute muscle soreness that required rest and anti-inflammatory medication, or it could be a sign of greater problems to come.

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This process is not at all unfamiliar to the Red Sox. Just last season Carson Smith similarly took time off to rehab a sore forearm in Spring Training. What started as a minor issue snowballed, holding him back from action until May. He then made two appearances, while battling through lingering issues, before finding himself on the DL for good. He has only just started throwing again and is not expected to rejoin the roster until the beginning of May.

If the worst case scenario manifests and Price’s injury devolves to something serious, his loss will have a considerable impact on the club’s outlook in 2017.

Let’s assume that Price doesn’t miss significant time and pitches for the majority of the year. With him on the roster, the Red Sox are projected to compile 46.2 WAR according to FanGraphs. That total is good for fifth in the MLB and tops in the AL East by a wide margin.

Depending on the projection, Price is expected to be worth 3.9 (Steamer) and 5.0 (ZiPS) WAR individually.

The bad news for the Red Sox is that all five AL East teams are projected to be within the top-17 in MLB, with just 10 WAR separating the Sox from the Orioles who are expected to finish fourth in the division. The loss of Price bridges that gap significantly. The division is already the most competitive in baseball and if the Red Sox lose Price, it immediately turns into a three-horse race for the title. Here are the projected standings, by WAR, without Price.

Here are the projected standings, by WAR, without him on the Sox roster.

  1. Red Sox (42.5)
  2. Blue Jays (41.1)
  3. Yankees (37.9)
  4. Orioles (36.5)
  5. Rays (35.6)

The fate of David Price isn’t the be-all, end-all for the Sox this season. Their rotation is still anchored by Chris Sale and Rick Porcello. Eduardo Rodriguez has the type of stuff that can put him in a top-3 spot but has yet to prove his consistency. And Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright were All-Stars in 2016 before suffering their respective arm injuries. Pomeranz’s struggles in the second half and Wright’s injury had definite impacts on their projections, so we can probably expect to earn back some of Price’s lost value there. But for the Red Sox to maintain their status as division favorites, they’ll need to ride this group from Game 1 through Game 162.

Below the top-5 on their depth chart, the pickings are slim. Kyle Kendrick, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, and Roenis Elias are next in line. You could make a case for Hector Velazquez‘s inclusion in that group, but that’s putting a lot of pressure on a pitcher that has never played in the United States. From that group, only Kendrick, Elias, and Owens have enough of a major league resume to gauge their performance.

Kendrick has 1,281 career innings pitched, with a 4.63 ERA, but hasn’t made a major-league roster since 2015. Elias has thrown 286.2 innings, spent heavily with the Mariners, and a 4.21 ERA. Lastly, Owens possesses a 5.19 career ERA over 85 innings pitched with the Red Sox. None of them inspire much confidence.

If it comes to this, there are options to replace Price. Jose Quintana could be still be had from the White Sox, but his price tag will probably run the Red Sox out of contention. Or they could look to lower-profile options on the free agent market; Henderson Alvarez, Doug Fister, and Colby Lewis are all out there.

To be certain, a long-term injury to David Price would have a measurable impact throughout the Red Sox pitching staff. The ramifications wouldn’t end their season, but they would alter the entire dynamic of the AL East. With Price, the Red Sox are clear favorites to walk away with the title and into home field advantage through ALDS at least. Without him, the division race becomes a toss-up with the Blue Jays.

Next: Where does Drew Pomeranz fit on the Red Sox roster?

It bears repeating that this is a worst-case scenario. For all we know, Price could feel fine when he pitches again and be ready to go by April. Or, the history of pitchers visiting Dr. Andrews could repeat itself. He and the Sox have been lucky enough thus far, let’s just hope that continues.