First off, let's get this out of the way: David Price has earned his money.
The Red Sox paid the left-hander $217 million to win a World Series. And though his path to that goal wasn't exactly direct, he ultimately delivered. With Chris Sale pitching at about 60 percent and the rest of the rotation on fumes, a case can be made that the Red Sox don't win it all without Price finally emerging as the A-1 alpha the team expected the night it wooed him at his favorite Nashville steakhouse in 2015.
For all the plaudits sent Nathan Eovaldi's way, the right-hander technically took the only loss vs. the Dodgers. Price? He was nails, winning Games 2 and 5 and losing the World Series MVP award only because Steve Pearce smacked an insurance homer in the clincher.
Price exorcised his postseason demons in dramatic fashion, and if you think we're building to an "and yet," you'd be right. So here goes:
Price memorably declared that he held all the cards, and now I can't help but wonder if he's starting to play them.
On Thursday, the Globe's Alex Speier relayed some fascinatingly candid comments from the veteran left-hander, who experienced underachievement in Tampa and Detroit, and knows how quickly promising seasons can end with stars scattered to the wind. The 2011 Rays opened 1-8 before manager Joe Maddon gathered players for shots. Tampa won 22 of its next 29 and then rallied to overtake the Red Sox on the wildest final day in baseball history.
Three years later, Tampa couldn't survive an even worse start, and Price landed in Detroit at the deadline. Discussing those experiences led him to theorize about a doomsday scenario involving the current Red Sox.
"If we don't start playing better, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, maybe myself, we could get traded," Price told the Globe. "We're, what, 30th in minor league systems? We're dead last. We don't play better, Mookie Betts will be traded, J.D. Martinez will be traded. It will be tough for a while here."
What a fascinating and unexpected direction to steer the conversation! There are multiple interpretations of that quote. One is simply that as a leader, Price wants to convey just how seriously the team takes its 6-13 record and last-place standing in the American League East, a whopping 8.5 games behind the Rays with a three-game set in Tampa kicking off Friday.
In this scenario, Price is standing up as a spokesman to address the rocky start. It's what leaders do: we know we need to be better, or we'll be gone. Multiple team sources have consistently painted him as all-in, particularly since the World Series. That's the charitable reading, and maybe it's the accurate one.
But here's my gut reaction, and I can't help but wonder if this thought motivated him, too: he wants out.
There's a reason the opt-out in Price's contract dominated discussion for the last two years. From his discomfort with criticism to his public spat with a reporter to his ill-advised confrontation with Hall of Fame broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, signs pointed to Price slamming the eject button the moment he had the chance.
But elbow troubles combined with a deteriorating market for free agent pitchers made such a decision irresponsible. Why leave $127 million on the table when the odds of recouping that money elsewhere were practically nonexistent? I appreciated Price's honesty this spring about opting in.
"You've seen this free agent market?" he retorted. "It wasn't very hard." He went on to say he came here to win multiple World Series and eventually even acknowledged that he loved the fans in an answer some found compelling and I had to squeeze like a sponge to extrude the sarcasm.
"Fans, I love you guys," Price told the cameras. "I have no problem with you. I get asked about you all the time. I'm sorry. I love you guys. That's it."
Price is right that some of us will never believe him when it comes to his feelings for the city. And perhaps there's no point trying to convince anyone. His contract doesn't say anything about liking it here. He's paid to perform, and on the biggest stage last October, he delivered. He'll probably do so again, if given the chance.
But it's interesting that he cited the team's prospect ranking. The farm system indeed ranks 30th, according to Baseball America, the result of not only Dave Dombrowski's trades for established talent, but also because youngsters like Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers are helping the big league club.
It certainly reads as a shot at the organization's decision makers, especially since Price asked to be educated about the farm system before he signed, because he wanted to join a team that was built for the long haul. Dombrowski presided over the ownership-mandated fire sale of the Marlins in 1998 before building the nucleus that won a title in 2003. He hasn't been much for rebuilds ever since, spending his last 10 seasons in Detroit in win-now mode, an approach he successfully imported to Boston.
It's hard to imagine Dombrowski suddenly becoming a seller, especially with only one year remaining on his contract, but Price didn't mind opening that door. Maybe he was simply serving as a spokesman on a team with reluctant leaders like Betts who'd prefer not to answer questions after every tough loss. But forgive me if I smell the whiff of an exit strategy, too.
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