When David Price signed with the Boston Red Sox, his seven-year, $221 million contract came with an opt-out clause following the 2018 season. With four years remaining on his deal, Price – who will then be 33 years old – could forgo the final $127 million owed to him and head to the free-agent market once again.
Forget for a moment that Price has been a major disappointment in his first two seasons in Boston. Given everything we’ve seen this offseason, with Yu Darvish finding just $126 million over six years and Jake Arrieta still waiting to get paid, why would any 33-year-old toss away $127 million?
It should come as no surprise then that Price has recently indicated that he intends to stay in Boston for the long haul, opt-out clause be damned.
“I came here to win,” he said. “I knew how tough it was to play here and pitch here. If you can go out there and win, I know all the emotions and everything’s going to be better in that positive light. I look forward to doing that.”
“Everything I’ve been through in the past two years, it’s been a struggle, absolutely, but I feel like I’ve gotten better from it,” he said. “I’ve learned from it. I look forward to continuing to learn.”
After leading the American League with a 2.45 ERA over 220.1 innings in 2015 with the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays, Price’s ERA rose to 3.99 over a league-best 230 innings in 2016. That culminated in an ALDS loss to the Cleveland Indians, with Price starting just one game and allowing five earned runs in 3.1 innings.
Price started the 2017 season on the disabled list, and the big left-hander started just 11 games for the Red Sox. He posted a 3.38 ERA in 74.2 innings, but he also made five relief appearances which accounted for 8.2 innings with zero earned runs allowed. He made two relief appearances in the ALDS against the Houston Astros, throwing 6.2 innings of shutout ball.
It’s safe to say that the city of Boston hasn’t gotten off to the best start with the team’s most expensive player. Fans are going to need to put aside some of the off-field stuff that happened around Price last season, because the Sox won’t be dealing him anytime soon. They also don’t view Price as a reliever, so expect that he’ll be entrenched in the rotation for the foreseeable future.
That may not be a bad thing. Despite the elbow inflammation problems, Price’s velocity actually bounced back in 2017 after a brief dip the season prior.
Despite his age, recent injuries, and everything else that has gone on with Price, there’s no physical reason to believe he can’t be closer to the guy he was prior to signing with the Sox. Maybe he won’t be a Cy Young winner for Boston in 2018, but that’s the risk you run with these type of contracts. Boston paid for Price’s post-prime years, and that’s what it is going to get.
Another interesting note heading into 2018 is the coaching staff change, which could have an effect on Price. We often oversimplify a change in pitching coach and how it might affect an injured or struggling starter, so it’s important to make a caveat in this part of the conversation. Letting go of John Farrell and Carl Willis isn’t going to magically transform Price into his former self.
But there have been some questions about Farrell and Willis’s handling of Price the last two years, and it’s clear that the left-hander’s pitch usage has changed.
Price’s fastball usage has dropped off, especially in 2017. By July, he was hardly throwing the pitch at all, instead relying on his sinker and cutter. The sinker has been an excellent pitch for Price throughout his career, but in four July starts it represented 62 percent of all the pitches Price threw. During that period, batters hit his sinker to the tune of a .396 BABIP with just an 11 percent whiff rate.
Dana LeVangie was promoted from bullpen coach to the new pitching coach position, and he could make an impact with Price. There has been an outpouring of love for LeVangie from former players, noting his baseball intelligence and acumen.
“The coaches would say, ‘Dana saw this.’ It was always right,” recalled Jason Varitek, who made his big league debut with the Sox in 1997, the same season LeVangie became bullpen catcher. “It didn’t take long into the season my first year before his attention to detail, to who you are, to how you go about things, what you need to do.”
Former Red Sox catcher and two-time World Series champion David Ross also said that he loved the move. Ross even said that if he ever became a major league manager, he’d want LeVangie as his bench coach.
LeVangie has the advantage of already having an intimate relationship with the majority of the pitchers on the staff. It was his job last season to go over the advanced scouting reports with the players, and he worked closely with the starters prior to games. The opinion of LeVangie among current players echoes Varitek and Ross.
As for Price, LeVangie knows he has a challenge ahead of him that fans will likely use as a metric to determine his success or failure as a pitching coach.
LeVangie already sees reasons for hope.
“David Price, down the stretch, more importantly proved to himself that he can come back and be the pitcher that he wants to be for our team,” LeVangie said.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Price spends the bulk of the next five seasons anywhere but in a Red Sox uniform. Considering what we know of the free-agent market, there’s nothing Price could do in 2018 to make opting out of his $127 million worthwhile. If he pitches well enough for another team to want to trade for him, the Red Sox would almost certainly be happy with the bounce-back season of their ace.
Whether Red Sox fans like Price or not, they should get used to him hanging around. He won’t be going anywhere. But there is also plenty of reason to hope that Price will be good again in the near future.