On Wednesday, David Price had an encouraging throwing session and it seems as if the Red Sox are just about ready to make a decision on their plan for the well-compensated lefty’s role over the rest of the season. In a discussion with the media after the session, as detailed here, John Farrell mentions that at this point it is possible for Price to come back as a starter. However, with just 18 games left in the season (now 17, for whatever that may be worth), the Red Sox manager acknowledges that this path may be overly aggressive. Nothing has been made official just yet, but by the way people are talking, it seems as if the most likely scenario is that Price is brought back to the Red Sox as a reliever for the rest of the year. While this is not ideal, this is probably the best route for everyone involved.
This is something I discussed early in August when it became clear that Price wasn’t simply going to miss a week or two before making his way back. As I said at the time, this Red Sox team is at its best if Price is back at full-strength in the rotation. I still believe that to be the case, even with Doug Fister looking much better than any of us expected. That being said, if Price were to come back as a starter, it would require at least one more simulated game, likely with more than the three innings he’s been throwing of late, before even getting in game action. On that schedule, if they want to keep him on normal rest, he would only get one start before the playoffs, or possibly two if they wanted to be aggressive. It’s possible that this would be enough to get him prepared, but it’d certainly be a massive risk. It’s not one they should take.
Price, if used correctly and able to pitch close to his full potential, could be a huge weapon in relief for Farrell and the Red Sox. We saw last October — and really, it’s a trend that’s been slowly building throughout the last few postseasons — that dominant bullpens can really change the course of short series. The Red Sox have a solid bullpen, but beyond Craig Kimbrel and Addison Reed, they don’t really have many dominant arms. Price could potentially be that other arm, and one that is more likely to go multiple innings without it completely blowing up his arm. He may not be able to work his way back enough to go five or six innings at a time, but two or three innings seems much more likely. These shorter outings would also theoretically let Price add a bit more to his overall stuff, though that may not work as well for a pitcher coming off injury.
Either way, putting Price in this role would instantly make him the second most valuable reliever in the bullpen for September and October in this writer’s opinion, and he could serve a couple of important roles. For one thing, it would make Farrell even more likely to hold his starters on short leashes. Starters rarely get a long leash in the postseason as it is, but having Price available in the bullpen to throw a few innings after a short start would make it even easier to remove a starter early if he just doesn’t have it. Playoff series are just too short to allow the opponent to take control of any game early on. In games where the starter does his job through the first few innings, Price then turns into a more traditional late-inning reliever, and becomes Boston’s best left-handed option in the bullpen. It’s true that Reed has performed well against left-handed hitters over his career, but having a bona fide left-handed star in the bullpen clearly makes this relief unit much, much more intimidating.
Now, this is the part in which I acknowledge that all I have written above is written under the assumption that Price is essentially at full strength, just without the ability to handle a starter’s workload. I have no idea whether or not that is the case, and it’s entirely possible he’s just not up to the task of pitching in the MLB postseason. All we can base this off so far, though, is the comments made by those who have seen him pitch, and those comments seem to be nearly universally positive at this point. With that in mind, we have to think Price is ready to look nearly like his old self. We still don’t know for sure if that will be in the rotation or bullpen, but it’s looking more and more like it will be the latter. If that’s the case, there seems to be a decent chance Price can be a hugely important piece for the Red Sox in that role.