What can the Boston Red Sox do if David Price is unable to return by season’s end?
A couple weeks ago, the Red Sox received a blow to their rotation when David Price was scratched from his start. At first, the conspiratorial wing of the fan base argued that he was just building his reputation as a “soft” player and avoiding the crowd at Fenway. In reality, Price had experienced renewed soreness in the elbow that kept him out of action through Spring Training and the first two months of the season.
The injury hurt, to be sure, but it hasn’t been a death knell for the Red Sox or the rotation. In a tight divisional race, a healthy David Price makes the difference between a good team and a great team. Still, the Red Sox have been able to survive, even thrive of late, without him. Their recent success is due in large part to a lineup that has finally learned how to score runs and a rotation that continues to prove its depth.
Over the weekend, the depth of the rotation became the spotlight once again when Price was unable to partake in his scheduled throwing program. What was initially considered a ‘one-out-of-ten’ on the severity scale by Price is looking more like a six or seven right now. Not only did the increase in elbow soreness keep him from throwing on Friday or Saturday, it’s thrown his entire timeline out the window. His status is best described as indefinite at this point and the longer we wait for him to begin rehabbing, the longer it will take for him to get back to full health.
In the middle of the dogfight that is the American League East, most will probably make the argument that the Red Sox should do whatever they can to get Price back on the field. Whether he’s miraculously back in the rotation or coming out of the bullpen to preserve what’s left of the ligaments in his elbow, it doesn’t matter. Just get him out there.
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I understand that thinking. When healthy, Price takes the Red Sox rotation from good to great. Maybe even the best in baseball. But the keyword is ‘healthy,’ something that he is clearly not and he may not be for a long time.
For the organization, Plan A remains to get him back to health in time for the stretch run of the regular season and a potential run in the postseason. This team has a chance to make some noise in the playoffs, and despite our yearly expectations, the reality is that teams can’t afford to make light of these opportunities. But what if Price can’t make it back for September or October? Well, the team should have an idea of where he’ll be in his recovery over the next couple weeks. Once they do, they’re going to have some tough decisions to make.
Since he’s not throwing right now, any potential return is going to require a couple weeks to build up his arm strength, then another week to throw bullpens and a final week or two for rehab appearances. That’s a full month that he’s going to need to get back to a condition where he’s capable of pitching in the major leagues. If by the time mid-August comes around and he’s not ready to begin his recovery, his chances of pitching again this season are bleak.
The longer his status remains indefinite, the longer management dodges questions or downplays the severity of his injury, the more likely it seems that Price will need the inevitable. Soon enough the team will know whether he’s going to be able to pitch this season given his finite time remaining. At what point does Tommy John surgery become the only option?
To be clear, planning around Price shouldn’t be the team’s primary focus right now. They’re in the middle of a playoff hunt and are fending back two good teams in Tampa Bay and New York – they have bigger fish to fry. Their focus should be on the proven commodities they have and how they can optimize their performance right now.
But there’s still going to be a decision that needs to be made with regard to Price. When he first went down in Spring Training, many reported that Dr. James Andrews would have recommended Tommy John surgery if Price were a decade younger. However, he’s not in the position to be writing off years of his career. If he’s going to need the surgery, it’s best to just get it over with.
If the worst case scenario manifests, dragging the ordeal out any longer just hurts both parties. We’re still seeing the negative effects of Carson Smith‘s stop and start season last year. If he doesn’t need surgery, that’s amazing. If he does, it’s in everyone’s interest to get it over with and have him ready for the 2019 season. This article probably took a darker turn than you were expecting, maybe even than I was expecting, but it’s the truth.
Again, Plan A is to have him ready by the end of the season, as it should be. Having Price in the rotation makes the Red Sox undoubtedly better. But let’s not sacrifice the integrity of his elbow for years to come in the hopes that he could be in the rotation. That outcome is far from ideal, but it’s going to be one that the Red Sox will have to consider eventually.