The pivotal figure of the Red Sox offseason isn't Mookie Betts. It isn't J.D. Martinez. It isn't even the next GM, who for now remains a magical unicorn.
It's David Price.
It has always been David Price, hasn't it? The $217 million left-hander has never quite fit here, and yet he was indispensable to 2018's title march — they legitimately do not win it all without him.
But as a beloved broadcaster with whom Price shares an inextricable linkage likes to say, "That's history, pal." And so it is that we're focused solely on the future.
Said future appears dim. The Red Sox have tied up too much money in question marks and lack the means to retain their best players without blowing out their payroll.
With owner John Henry all but demanding a drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold — the subsequent "it's a goal, not a mandate" walk-backs are called damage control — it's a distinct possibility that Martinez and Betts could depart this winter and still not leave the resources to address holes at first, second, right, DH, backup catcher, bullpen, and in the rotation.
If that's the case, then prepare for three more seasons like 2019, except without a deep offense to rescue the beleaguered starting staff.
Unless . . .
There's one way out of this mess that increases the likelihood of Betts or Martinez remaining in a Red Sox uniform, but it feels incredibly remote.
It involves finding a taker for the final three years and as much as the $96 million remaining on Price's contract that team can be convinced to eat.
Removing Price from the equation would accomplish multiple goals. For one, it would break up the triumvirate of uncertainty atop the rotation, leaving just left-hander Chris Sale (elbow, maybe shoulder) and right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) as high-priced injury risks who are signed through at least 2022.
For another, it would save at least $10 million annually towards the luxury tax, since it's hard to imagine the Red Sox accepting any less without deciding to just roll the dice on Price being healthy and productive.
And for a third, it would help alter the makeup of a dreary clubhouse that is transitioning to more upbeat, positive leaders like shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
So the question is if it can be done. Price has three strikes against him. We've already mentioned the money. Even if the Red Sox ate $20 million a year (which would remain on their books), they'd still need to convince someone that Price is worth $12 million annually, and given his injury history and clubhouse concerns, that would be a tough sell. It might even require the inclusion of a prospect to sweeten the pot.
He just had surgery to remove a cyst from his wrist. That injury limited him to 107.1 innings and further clouds the 34-year-old's future, especially considering that his 2017 season was also cut short, to just 11 starts, by injury.
Add his very public spats with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, which Price pointlessly reignited this summer when he very easily could've turned the other cheek, and the left-hander has developed a reputation outside of Boston not for being a great teammate — as we were all told when he signed here — but a toxic figure. Two executives recently admitted they'd hesitate to add Price to their clubhouses even if they could guarantee he'd be healthy.
Four years into his Red Sox career, Price feels like someone who, on his best days, merely tolerates being here. Even after winning the World Series as last year's de facto postseason MVP, he arrived in spring training with a chip on his shoulder to accompany all the cards he finally held.
He has never said he wants out, but it's hard to imagine he'd object if the Red Sox managed to find him a new home.
That's an incredibly tall order, but freeing themselves from Price feels like the first step towards smashing their roster logjam and beginning a painful but necessary rebuild.
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