The Red Sox received a blow to their roster a couple of weeks ago when David Price experienced some renewed soreness in the elbow that caused him to miss the first six weeks or so of the season. The southpaw was just starting to get on a roll and was looking like he was set for a big second half to help push the Red Sox into the postseason. All of the off-the-field controversy aside, Price was and is a very important member of this roster. With the divisional race so tight between Boston, New York and Tampa, to say the timing of the injury was inopportune would be an understatement. The rotation can and has survived without him, but is upside is much more limited with him on the sidelines.
Over the weekend, the Red Sox got a little bit of bad news on the Price front. On both Friday and Saturday the southpaw was unable to participate in his scheduled throwing program due to more soreness in the elbow. John Farrell and Dave Dombrowski did their part in underplaying this, but it is obviously a concern. The more time Price misses, the more time it will take for him to work his way back to a full workload and there is only a limited amount of time left on the schedule for him to get back. With that in mind, it may be time to start thinking about a Plan B for Price.
Before we get into Plan B, it should be mentioned that at this point working towards Plan A is obviously the priority and the focus, as it should be. That is, Price and the organization need to do everything they possibly can to get him ready to rejoin the rotation whenever he’s ready. Ideally, that means getting him ready with at least a couple of weeks left in the season to give him some tune-up starts before the postseason, if they get that far. However, if we get into September and it is looking like Price isn’t going to be able to make it that far, it may be time for a different approach. They should be keeping it in the back of their minds that, if the elbow doesn’t heal up as quickly as they’d like, Price can be a weapon out of the bullpen in October.
As of this writing, the Red Sox have a quietly strong bullpen. With the addition of Addison Reed, they now have four trustworthy righties to slot in behind Craig Kimbrel, and that doesn’t even count someone like Heath Hembree, who has shown some great flashes himself this year. This is great in the regular season, of course, but it’s even more important in the postseason. Again, the focus right now is getting there, not building their team to succeed there, but it’s worth remembering how much shorter starts can be in October and how much more heavily the most successful teams lean on their bullpen. Where Boston’s relief corps is missing that upside is from the left side. Fernando Abad is currently the only lefty in their bullpen, and to be fair to the former Twin he’s been quietly solid this year. The issue, for me, is that much of that work has come in mop-up duty, and I’m still not sure I trust him as the top lefty in the bullpen despite the numbers being good enough. That’s where Price comes in.
Obviously, there’s a very specific series of events that would need to lead us to this place. Price’s elbow would have to be healthy enough to throw but not healthy enough for him to work all the way back to a starting role. As someone with zero medical training in his life, I have no idea what the odds even are of that taking place. It seems like it could be possible, though, with every passing day of him not being any healthier. If he was able to make it back for this kind of role, he could be dynamic. We’ve seen him out of the bullpen a couple times in his career. Once was in Toronto in 2015 in what was something of an infamous decision from his manager after he struggled once again in his playoff start. He didn’t pitch great, but he did pick up the victory. Prior to that, he was a bullpen ace in 2008 when he was first called up to the majors. We all remember this, as this run included three big scoreless outings against the Red Sox in that exciting ALCS.
Again, I feel the need to point out that this is not where Price’s focus or the team’s should be. This is also not a way to avoid having him start in the postseason, where to this point in his career the results have been almost entirely poor. If he’s healthy enough to start, the Red Sox need him in their rotation. If they really want a big lefty from the rotation to join the bullpen, Eduardo Rodriguez would serve that role just fine. Boston’s best roster includes Price as a starter. That being said, elbow injuries can be tricky, and that’s particularly true of one that’s already cost him some time this season. There’s no need for him to push himself too hard to get back to where he needs to be to start. If the injury keeps him out for longer than he/they expect, the southpaw can get himself set for a bullpen role in October. It’s not the ideal usage of the roster, but it’d be the best way to make good out of a bad situation.