Red Sox at a rock and a hard place with David Price


The Boston Red Sox David Price has been a disappointment based on expectations. There are three possible scenarios in recent baseball history that could play out.

Forget looking at the numbers for Boston Red Sox lefty David Price.  Avoid heat charts on Brooks Baseball and don’t waste your time with the various contact percent and other sundry statistics on FanGraphs. Just look at the eyes of the batters as they now face Price. Fear replaced by joy. Price has drifted from extraordinary to ordinary and is most certainly on the downward spiral to forgettable.

There is, however, one number or numbers that cannot be ignored.  Numbers that will influence the decision-making process for years. Price will be on the payroll books for $127 million from 2019-2022. This season Price pitches at the bargain rate of $32 million.  Just think of the impact of that salary when and if the Red Sox become luxury tax conscious. Think of those numbers as Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, and Xander Bogaerts line up for their fiscal kiss.

What options exist? History gives a clue.

Gil Meche was a strange one in the world of baseball contracts. Meche – a competent right-handed pitcher for the Royals – had a shoulder that looked like it had been through a meat grinder. All Meche had to do was show up at spring training in 2011 to collect the last year of his contract – $12 million. Meche walked away. Would you walk away?

"“When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” Meche told the NY Times in 2011. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”"

Meche was driven not by money but a personal ethically and moral code. The contract was signed in good faith by both parties and no one would have raised an issue if Meche spent the season with a reduced workload or on the disabled list. His actions were certainly “different” in baseball. Would you expect Price to walk away? In a few years if performance continues to degrade?

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Will Price be like C.C. Sabathia?  That Sabathia twice led the American League in wins in the 2009-11 time frame and then choose not to opt-out and was granted another year on his contract. What could possibly go wrong? Sabathia was simply no longer the pitcher of those first three years as injuries and performance issues surfaced and the result was 61 wins over six seasons and an earned run average that climbed.

Price has so far mirrored that Sabathia portion of the contract that started in 2012. Both Sabathia and Price had relatively respectably first seasons. Sabathia’s second year on the contract saw his numbers, especially ERA, escalate. Then four seasons of pitching not even close to contract value.

Price seems on that path with a 2016 season that had a 3.99 ERA. An injury-riddled 2017 and now this season Price is just ordinary – and that may be an overstatement. I am sure the Red Sox would eventually reconcile themselves to grudgingly accept Price being a very expensive lower rotation pitcher.

Barry Zito was an outstanding lefty for the Oakland Athletics and was rewarded via free agency with a seven-year and $120 million contract by the San Francisco Giants.  Zito would be the lead horse in a young rotation that eventually would have Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum as among the best in baseball. But what about Zito?

Zito finished his seven seasons with a 63-80 record and 4.62 ERA.  In six of those seasons, Zito made 30+ starts, but his lowest ERA was 4.03.  Zito simply was a fifth starter being paid ace money. That is what – JMO – will happen with Price.  Price will get paid if he pitches or if he sits. Price is almost untradeable unless the Red Sox are willing to absorb the bulk on the contract.

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The Red Sox are in a bind with Price.  If he continues to be a pitching pinata then he will be replaced out of necessity. What the Red Sox will have is an expensive bullpen pitcher and spot starter.  Think Hector Velazquez. Maybe Price will recover his lost talent? Would you bet on it? I would not.