With David Price’s time in Boston coming to an end, it can be said that he and the Red Sox were never a good match for each other.
Perhaps the only good thing to come out of the entire Mookie Betts trade was the jettisoning of David Price. While I think we can all agree that the Red Sox didn’t get nearly enough in return for Betts (due to the Red Sox insistence that Price be included in the deal), I believe most fans are, if not happy, indifferent to seeing Price go. As the years pass, it’s safe to say that Mookie’s departure will be lamented for a long time, but Price will not be missed by many.
It was a strange, uneasy marriage from the beginning. Red Sox fans and the team were certainly aware of Price and what he could do, falling victim to his talents in Game Seven of the 2008 ALCS. During his years in Tampa, Price was a thorn in Boston’s side and he continued to be a front-line starter for the Rays, Tigers, and Blue Jays before he signed a big free agent contract in December 2015 and came to Boston.
And what a contract it was! Then-Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski inked Price to a seven-year deal worth $217 million. At the time, it was the largest contract in terms of AAV in Major League Baseball history, although it’s since been eclipsed. Expectations are always high with big free agent signings, but even more so in big markets like Boston and from the beginning, Price failed to meet the exacting standards set by Red Sox fans.
It’s not that Price was bad…he just wasn’t great. First, the numbers:
2016: 17-9 W-L, 3.99 ERA, 228 K, 50 BB, 230.0 IP, 1.204 WHIP
2017: 6-3 W-L, 3.38 ERA, 76 K, 24 BB, 74.2 IP, 1.192 WHIP
2018: 16-7 W-L, 3.58 ERA, 177 K, 50 BB, 176.0 IP, 1.142 WHIP
2019: 7-5 W-L, 4.28 ERA, 128 K, 32 BB, 107.1 IP, 1.314 WHIP
Those are decent number and two of those seasons, 2016 and 2018, were very good. As for 2017 and 2019, he battled injuries in both of those years, including carpal tunnel induced from too much Fortnite, as well as an elbow injury that luckily required only rest and not surgery (his so-called “Magic Elbow”) and a wrist cyst. There’s a bit of overlap with those ailments, but in essence the Red Sox got two full seasons and two injury-abbreviated seasons from their highest paid pitcher.
Price’s time in Boston gets even more complicated when his postseason numbers are taken into account. It was well-known before he came to the Red Sox that he struggled in October, bringing a 2-7 postseason record (with both wins coming in relief) with him. Things didn’t get much better in Boston, although they ended on a high note. Let’s take a look:
2016 ALDS: 0-1 W-L, 13.50 ERA, 3 K, 2 BB, 3.1 IP, 2.40 WHIP
2017 ALDS: 0-0 W-L, 0.00 ERA, 6 K, 2 BB, 6.2 IP, 1.05 WHIP
2018 ALDS: 0-1 W-L, 16.20 ERA, 0 K, 0 BB, 1.2 IP, 3.00 WHIP
2018 ALCS: 1-0 W-L, 3.38 ERA, 13 K, 4 BB, 10.2 IP, 1.125 WHIP
2018 World Series: 2-0 W-L, 1.98 ERA, 10 K, 6 BB, 13.2 IP, 0.951 WHIP
Apart from those last two series, I don’t think anyone would disagree that Price was completely atrocious in the postseason for the Red Sox. Still, he redeemed himself at the end, winning his second start of the ALCS in Game Five after getting a no-decision in game two. He then won both of his starts in the World Series and many people (myself included) believe he should have won World Series MVP over Steve Pearce.
However, when looking at that entire body of work, is that the production expected out of a pitcher with the richest contract (again, at the time) ever given to someone at that position? Perhaps it’s a bit unfair that the contract size placed unrealistic expectations on Price, especially given that he was 31 when it started. Still, while Price wasn’t bad, he wasn’t great, but merely very good.
Beyond the on-field performance, there were other reasons he was never really embraced by Red Sox fans. He was outspoken and always seemed grumpy with fans and the media which resulted in a negative feedback loop: the more they rode him, the more Price despised them. His inability to deliver in the postseason, unlike the pitcher he “replaced” in Jon Lester, never endeared him to Red Sox fans either.
Then there was the off-field stuff, like the aforementioned Fortnite incident where he defiantly refused to stop playing until it was confirmed the video game caused his wrist injury (to be fair, Price wasn’t the only one who partook). There was his “I hold all the cards now and that feels so good” comment when addressing the media after winning the World Series which, regardless of how he meant it, rubbed many fans and media members the wrong way.
And then there’s the Dennis Eckersley feud (you knew we’d get to it eventually). If there was one incident that forever ruined any chance Price had of being beloved by Red Sox fans, it was this one. An innocuous comment (“Yuck”) by Eckersley that had nothing to do with Price (it was directed at Eduardo Rodriguez‘ recent rehab start) set Price on the warpath against the Hall of Famer and former Red Sox pitcher.
The nadir was a report in the summer of 2017 which revealed that Price had a nasty confrontation with Eckersley on the team plane (egged on by Dustin Pedroia). Price was roundly condemned by Red Sox Nation and seemed to learn his lesson while showing some contrition in 2018. However, he couldn’t help himself and in 2019 reignited the feud with some ill-advised comments directed at Eckersley after the premiere of MLB Network’s documentary on the man.
That was when the majority of Red Sox fans threw in the towel on Price for good. By all accounts, Price was well-liked in the clubhouse and is a good husband and father. I’ve never had anything against him as a person and while I’ve never been a fan of his personality or comportment, when he was delivering on the mound I was able to compartmentalize and ignore it.
However, now that his time in Boston is (seemingly) at an end, when the big picture of his time in a Red Sox uniform is looked at, it’s safe to say he and the team were always a bad match. He had rabbit ears for the media and was thin-skinned which is a terrible combination in any city, but especially in Boston. He was never embraced by the fans and media and that disdain was mutual.
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With the end of that uneasy relationship, it’s safe to say that while Red Sox fans will miss Mookie Betts and his joyous personality (not to mention his prodigious talent) for years to come, they won’t look back quite as warmly on David Price’s time in Boston.