Red Sox have a rotation problem if David Price opts out next year

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 08: David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox throws a pitch in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros during game three of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park on October 8, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 08: David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox throws a pitch in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros during game three of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park on October 8, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

While some Boston Red Sox fans may be hoping David Price opts out of his contract next winter, his departure would create a hole in the rotation.

The Boston Red Sox have a looming predicament to deal with as it pertains to the contract of left-handed starter David Price.

The team needs Price to bounce back this season as a top of the rotation caliber arm. He doesn’t need to be the ace of the staff since Chris Sale has that role locked down. However, if Price can return to form he will give the Red Sox the best one-two punch in baseball.

The downside, of course, is that a strong 2018 season from Price increases the chances that he’ll exercise the opt-out clause in his contract to go in search of an even bigger payday.

Some fans may be crossing their fingers that Price opts out. After a slow start to his Red Sox career was followed by a season derailed by injury, it’s fair to say that Price hasn’t lived up to his contract so far. The veteran lefty has struggled to adapt to being in the spotlight that comes with pitching in Boston. He’s drawn more attention for his battles with the media than the ones he’s faced on the mound. An irritable Price has left the impression that he no longer wants to be here, creating the assumption that he’ll bolt after this season as long as he performs well enough to convince another team that he’s worth a new contract comparable to the one he already has, with perhaps another year or two tacked on.

The initial reaction may be to say good riddance to Price, his bad attitude and the $127 million remaining on his contract after 2018. That’s a hefty sum of money that can be allocated elsewhere.

Careful what you wish for. While opting into the rest of his deal would force the Red Sox to pay north of $30 million per year to an underachieving sourpuss through his age 36 season, opting out would create a gaping hole in Boston’s rotation.

Sure, the departure of Price would free up plenty of payroll space to find a replacement but who are you going to spend those savings on? A look at the potential free agent starting pitchers on the market next winter doesn’t offer many desirable options.

The San Francisco Giants will obviously be picking up the bargain team option on Madison Bumgarner‘s contract. Ditto for the Cleveland Indians with Carlos Carrasco.

Cole Hamels will need a healthy season producing pre-2017 results in order to convince the Texas Rangers to pick up his option since it seems highly unlikely he’ll meet the requirements for the option to vest automatically. If he continues to struggle with injuries or regresses further then he’s not a viable option for the Red Sox to consider.

Dallas Keuchel would be an appealing option. He’s been an elite pitcher in two of the past three seasons and has a solid track record in the postseason. Keuchel is also about two and a half years younger than Price. Would a Houston Astros team set to contend for the foreseeable future let him get away or was their recent trade for Gerrit Cole a contingency to protect against the reality that he’s going to leave?

The wildcard on the market next year could be Clayton Kershaw if exercises his own opt-out. He’s undoubtedly been the best pitcher on the planet for the last seven years. He’s won an MVP and three Cy Youngs while finishing in the top-5 for the latter award in every season since 2011. He’ll also be 31 when the 2019 season starts and has been hindered by back issues the last two seasons.

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An over-30 pitcher who will cost north of $30 million per season, has some recent injury red flags to worry about and a history of underperforming on the postseason stage. Kershaw comes with many of the same risks that have Red Sox fans wanting to push Price out the door for.

None of the other pitchers on this list have the ability to approach what Price is capable of. If Price leaves then the Red Sox rotation will be weaker.

That’s without even factoring in that Drew Pomeranz, the team’s second-best starter in 2017, will be a free agent next year. If he comes close to replicating last season’s results then he’ll set himself up for a big payday of his own. If the Red Sox aren’t willing to invest in him for the long-haul then they could potentially have two holes in the rotation heading into next offseason.

Boston’s rotation could look drastically different in 2019. Any staff will look good with Sale leading the way but behind him trail several question marks. Will Pomeranz stay – and if he does, are there signs that he may regress? Can Rick Porcello return to being a useful rotation option? Is Eduardo Rodriguez ever going to stay healthy?

The Red Sox won’t get much help from their farm system. Jason Groome seems to be the only potential mainstay in the rotation but he’s years away from the big leagues. Dave Dombrowski hasn’t left enough in the cupboard to spare enough pieces for a top-tier starter on the trade market.

With few appealing options on next year’s free agent market, Boston would be hard-pressed to replace both Price and Pomeranz. Price may be vastly overpaid but the pressure will be on to overpay Pomeranz is they lose Price.

Next: Who will be the Red Sox closer in 2019?

A change of scenery may ultimately be what’s best for Price. The Red Sox may find better ways to spend that money. Yet realize that regardless of the downside Price carries, finding another pitcher to take his place in the rotation with his upside may prove to be an impossible task.