CLEVELAND -- When the Red Sox signed David Price to the biggest contract in team history and the largest ever given to a pitcher anywhere last winter, the signing came with certain unavoidable expectations.
For his $217 million, Price would be expected to be the leader of the pitching staff, the ace the Red Sox so sorely and obviously lacked last season. Having endured a season in which they were without a proven front-line starter, the Red Sox abruptly changed direction this past off-season and dug feep for arguably the best starter on the free agent market.
It came at a high price, but the Red Sox filled a major hole. After maintaining that they had five No. 1's a year ago, the Sox faced the facts and acknowledged that, in reality, they didn't have one.
As he prepares for his first regular season start in a Red Sox uniform in Monday's regular season opener against the Cleveland Indians, Price is comfortable with that assignment.
In fact, he wouldn't have it any way. Not only does Price not shirk that responsibility, he welcomes it.
“Everybody needs to want to be The Guy,” said Price. “Whatever team it is, you want to be that No. 1. Everybody wants that and I think that's a very good quality to have.”
“David gives us someone who (everyone) looks to for not only leadership in the clubhouse but leadership through performance,” said John Farrell. “In addition to that, it pushes everyone else in the rotation down to a slot that maybe they're better suited for. And when you look at a No. 1 starter, you can manage a little more aggressively with your bullpen the day before or the day after (he pitches) because there's a high likelihood of the innings (they're going to provide).”
Opening Day assignments aren't novel for Price - Monday will mark his fifth such start. But after being traded at the deadline in each of the last two seasons, Price will become just the third pitcher in history to make three straight Opening Day starts for three different teams, having gotten the honor for Tampa Bay in 2014 and Detroit in 2015.
“To be the one who gets to throw the first pitch for your team,” said Price, “that's always an honor. It's extremely special and Opening Day, for everyone, is just a very special day and I'm excited to get that started.”
Price is with his fourth club since July of 2014, but only now does he have the luxury of starting the season from the very beginning with his latest club. After twice joining new teams in mid-season and having to learn quickly, he enjoyed getting to know everyone from the start of spring training.
And the knowledge that he could be with the Red Sox for as many as seven seasons (or as few as three, should he exercise an opt-out following 2018) is a comforting one.
“I was talking to Pedro (Martinez) in Montreal,” recounted Price, “and I was like, ‘Man, this is the most relaxed I've been in a long time,’ knowing that I'm going to be somewhere for an extended period of time. I can set my roots in and be a part of everything, knowing that I'm going to be here next year, I'm going to be here in two years.
“To me, that's very special. That's something I definitely want and it's not something I've had and to have that now, it's definitely a good feeling.”
Price's first start for the Red Sox will bring with it some challenges. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s Monday afternoon here, with the possibility of rain or light now.
Those conditions will put a premium on Price staying warm and loose between innings.
“(You have to) take your time out on that mound,” he said. “Whenever you get a new baseball, you rub it up to get a grip. That's probably the toughest thing about pitching in cold weather - your hands get a little bit more cold and that baseball can feel a little more slippery.”
In his final week of spring training, Price noted that the ball can sometimes feel like a “cue ball.” But he's prepared for that, too, and doesn't anticipate that getting the proper grip on his secondary pitches or a major change of approach.
“If you get on top of baseball, you can execute your pitches,” he said. “I won't be throwing any knuckleballs or palm balls, so I'll be able to make it work.”
It's Price's job to make it work, Monday and another 30 or so times the rest of the season. Already, he's made believers out of some without throwing a regular season pitch.
“David has already done a great job,” said David Ortiz. “He's the kind of guy that we need, that we're embracing already. He's a good example for the rest of the guys - his reputation, his work ethic and the way he handled himself.”
“His place in our rotation has effects in many different areas,” said Farrell. “But most importantly, it's his teammates looking at him and knowing that there's a great amount of confidence when he walks to that mound.”