Red Sox

Here's why key to entire Red Sox offseason rests with... David Price?

Here's why key to entire Red Sox offseason rests with... David Price?

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.

Ranking the top 20 free agents of MLB offseason>>>>>

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Alex Cora sees Chris Sale as a man 'on a mission' after resuming throwing program

Alex Cora sees Chris Sale as a man 'on a mission' after resuming throwing program

SAN DIEGO -- Chris Sale recently cleared a major hurdle and resumed throwing. Manager Alex Cora can already see the noted competitor's fire burning bright as he looks to make amends for a shockingly mediocre 2019.

"I hate to say he's on a mission, but obviously he wasn't happy with the way the season went last year," Cora said. "He was trending up when he got hurt at the end. So hopefully he can bounce back, be ready for spring training, and be ready for the opening series."

Sale went just 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA in what was easily the worst season of his career before shutting it down in late August with a sore elbow. Dr. James Andrews prescribed rest and said he'd reevaluate Sale in six weeks, an aggressive timetable that was abandoned when it became clear the Red Sox would not make the playoffs.

Until Sale had his follow-up and started throwing again, however, concerns would linger that perhaps he'd still require a surgical procedure or be unready to start the season with the team. The start of throwing, however, has him back on track.

Sale is working out at the team's spring training facility in Fort Myers, where Sale makes his home. He and his wife recently donated $1 million to his alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University.

"I texted him the other day," Cora said. "What he did to his university, that was amazing, not forgetting where you come from. That was great. Physically, he's in a good spot. He's in a good place. He's been very consistent with his rehab. Obviously, not sleeping that much because of the birth of the baby. We've got a few guys like that, but physically he's in a good spot. Mentally he's in a good spot."

Soon enough we'll find out if he's putting himself in a position to say mission accomplished.

***

Sale isn't the only pitcher who recently started throwing again. David Price, a couple of months removed from a procedure to remove a cyst on his wrist, is playing catch.

"The feeling is different," Cora said. "Obviously, he's been dealing with this for a while, and it's been a grind for David to go out there and perform. He feels a little bit looser with the wrist. The feel of the ball is different, and there haven't been setbacks. As of now, everything is trending the right way. The goal is for him to be ready for the opening series."

Tomase: Sox offseason plans could come into focus this week>>>

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How future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre quietly helped turn around Rafael Devers' season

How future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre quietly helped turn around Rafael Devers' season

SAN DIEGO -- It was easily one of the low points of Rafael Devers' otherwise breakout 2019, but it led to a phone call that changed his season.

On May 2 in Chicago, Devers booted a ground with one out in the ninth and the Red Sox holding a 4-3 lead over the White Sox. Two batters later, Nick Delmonico launched a walkoff three-run homer, and a disconsolate Devers admitted that he "played a significant role in the loss."

Teammate Mitch Moreland, however, saw an opportunity. He put Devers in touch with a former Rangers teammate who knows a thing or two about manning the hot corner -- five-time Gold Glover and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre.

The two spoke a couple of times a month for the rest of the season, and Red Sox manager Alex Cora is excited to see what impact Beltre's wisdom will have on Devers in 20202.

"He took it personally," Cora said of the Chicago error. "And I'll say it now, after that, Mitch actually, he made a phone call to the Dominican Republic and talked to Adrian, and Adrian talked to Raffy, and from there on, the communication was on an every-other-week basis, and there's a few things that Adrian told him to do in the offseason and what he should do in spring training, and looking forward for him to work that way and see where it takes him."

After making nine errors in his first 31 games, Devers made just 13 the rest of the way, and the Red Sox expect he'll continue making strides next season.

"As far as like moving and decisions and what he did last year compared to where he was in my first year, it's night and day," Cora said. "The confidence, too."

Tomase: Sox offseason plans could come into focus this week>>>

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