I write about the Red Sox and follow them on Twitter as a hobby, which is mostly fun, but I’m preemptively exhausted from this year’s David Price takes. It’s possible the Price saga will end well, but it’s going poorly right now and, to some people, that is more or less all that matters.
It is because of the money.
There’s no two ways around it. Price is under special scrutiny, just as, going backward, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello, Carl Crawford and, most notably, Manny Ramirez were before him. The money colors every take, and the question is not “Is this player good for the Red Sox?” but, instead, “Is this player earning his money?”
This has been a natural way of looking at it forever, even if a “team-friendly” deal is — quite obviously — inherently unfair to the player. For whatever reason, we’ve generally seen big-dollar contracts as “team-unfriendly,” which is crazy, given that the team made the deals in the first place. They rub us the wrong way. With the exception of Manny’s deal, no one has taken the money in Boston and been afforded the warmest of welcomes. It’s hard to remember now, but Manny’s signing was a breath of fresh air at the time, but even now, for all his accomplishments -- a batting title, a home run title, the 2004 World Series MVP, the transcendent 2007 ALCS game-winning homer off K-Rod -- he is often remembered around here as a guy who occasionally watched too many pitches or gave bad photo-ops on his days off. Is it fair? Of course it isn’t. It’s madness
But at least in Manny’s case, the Red Sox resumé is impeccable. The case to treat him better makes itself. Price doesn’t have that, yet, despite a 2016 that was much better than generally thought. If he was healthy, he would be the team’s No. 3 starter to begin the season, which seems like madness for a guy you’re paying All The Money In The World, but then again it seemed like madness last year -- rightly so -- to be paying $20 million for a No. 4 starter, and all Porcello did was go out and win the Cy Young Award.
Of course, Porcello played it a bit cooler than Price did after his down year, to say the least. When Price signed here, he boasted that he relished the challenge of pitching for some of the toughest fans in baseball, only to complain enough in a recent Boston Globe interview to raise eyebrows among even his staunchest defenders, of which I am one. Whatever his newfound whiny ways are, they’re not a good look.
That said, I don’t think he’s as eager to leave Boston as some believe, because I think his frustration is borne of the same animating factors that make him an easy target. Unlike Manny, who was generally aloof to criticisms, or Crawford, who bore both the barbs with the weight of Dali’s clocks, Price seems to know exactly where he stands, and is eager to fight back even as his body betrays him. Call it the tyranny of small differences: I think he’s so much like us, fundamentally, that he’s furious he can’t get back on the field and prove his doubters wrong.
To that end, if there is something fundamentally wrong with him, it’s with his body, not his mind or attitude. The latter two can be fixed. At his age, the former can only be managed. He’s starting the season on the DL and there’s a decent chance he doesn’t pitch a single inning this year, while there’s also a good chance he throws 150 of them. There’s also not much he can do about the sordid history of long-term deals to aging left-handers, which hangs like a cloud over everything that happens here, even if they were, like Price’s 2016, generally better than you remember.
The “worst-case scenario” here is basically the Barry Zito contract, but even that didn’t hold back a Giants team that won two titles with him on the books, and Price is better than Zito, full-stop. A better comparison is probably CC Sabathia’s deal with the Yankees, which netted the team a title in Sabathia’s first year but turned sour a few years back when, as we know now, he developed substance abuse issues. Last year he was critical to a beleaguered rotation, and on the whole, he’s been a good addition for a fellow money-printing organization, even if his contract isn’t acknowledged as such.
The elephant in the room is the other conspicuous long-term lefty deal, the one the Red Sox were arguably still chasing when they signed Price -- Jon Lester’s huge Cubs pact, which, like the others mentioned, helped earn his team a title. Should the Sox have signed Lester at top dollar? Maybe, and if they had, his unique Sox history would likely have spared him the scorn of the bottom-liners, no matter what he did once the ink was dry. To some around here, I get the sense that Lester would have preemptively “earned” that money in a way that is effectively impossible for Price to match.
That’s not fair, of course, and there’s a whole lot you could read into Boston’s attitude toward Lester vis-a-vis its attitude toward Price, socio-historically, but I think Price himself would tell me to ignore all that and focus on the results and if they’re bad, to let him have it. How much he’d mean it, in light of the prickly Globe interview, is up for debate, but what’s hardly up for debate is that Lester would have an almost infinitely long leash whereas Price’s has been shortened to damn near nothing. That’s not right.
What’s important to remember now is that we know nothing. Porcello was a waste of space at this point last year and Hanley was considered irredeemable, especially at first base, and that worked out fine. This year it’s Price and Sandoval who come in as the reigning suckers the poker table, but neither of them seems content to stand for it. The good thing for Panda is that he’s healthy and can play. Price can’t, and as frustrated as you are about it, I promise you it’s much worse for him, even on his figuratively gold-plated bed. His life’s work is slipping away, and for his suffering he’s being called a bum. When he eventually turns it around -- and he will turn it around, eventually -- you might not remember how you kicked him while he was down, but he will, and I will.
We may have a monopoly on how we make Sox players feel, and the fact we kick our best and brightest when they’re down isn’t tough love: It isn’t love at all. If Price’s salary makes him an easy target, we should think twice about shooting our arrows in his direction. If it’s that easy, it’s probably not worth doing. That’s not who we are, and it’s not who Price is either. If it was, he wouldn’t be here, and I’d rather he’s with us than against us.