If you think David Price is going to opt out of the contract that is scheduled to net him $127 million over the next four seasons, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Yet, just a few days into Spring Training, that seems to be a topic of conversation surrounding the Red Sox and their $217 Million Man. The 32-year-old lefty hasn’t done enough to command that kind of money on the open market in its current climate with his track record the last two years, so why in the world would he leave a pretty cushy situation where he’s already making that kind of money? That’s settled, then. He’s not going anywhere for the foreseeable future and he will likely be a fixture on this team for the next few years. So, please, it’s time to accept that.
Price’s base salary this season will be $30 million, meaning he’ll bring home more money than Craig Kimbrel ($13 million), Drew Pomeranz ($8.5 million), Joe Kelly ($3.8 million) Eduardo Rodriguez ($2.35 million) and Steven Wright ($1.1 million) combined. He occupies almost 15 percent of the team’s overall payroll of nearly $200 million. So I definitely understand those somewhat unreasonable expectations associated with his first two years in Boston, and can agree with those proudly waving the flag of Team He Hasn’t Earned That Kind Of Money. But he would have to perform nearly flawlessly for seven consecutive years in order to “earn that kind of money.”
Price was going to get the kind of deal Boston gave him regardless of where he ended up as a free agent in 2016. It just so happens that the money is coming out of Boston’s pocket, making the “underperformance” all the more frustrating for us. Regardless, here we are, about to start year three of the David Price Experience. I realize the group of us that are confident in Price is shrinking, and that’s okay. My confidence in him has only gotten stronger.
Upon arriving in Fort Myers for Spring Training last week, Price did something he hadn’t done in awhile by saying all the right things to a media scrum that he clashed with on almost a daily basis one year ago.
“I could have handled it better last year, absolutely,” Price told reporters last week, “I look forward to getting off on the right foot. … I’ve always been one to lead with my actions. I didn’t do that very well last year. I know that.”
He must be referring to the infamous fight with Dennis Eckersley, or the not-so-subtle discussion he had with a member of the Boston media in the bowels of Yankee Stadium last June. The past is the past, David. Water under the bridge. Hell, even Evan Drellich - the target of Price’s tirade in the Bronx last year - is saying it’s time to give the guy a chance.
If he were to find his groove this year and get back to the Cy Young form that he’s certainly more than capable of, he wouldn’t be the first free-agent signing to do so in his third season with Boston. It just takes some players more time to adjust to playing here, especially when said player spent the first six seasons of his MLB career in the absolutely booming baseball market of Tampa Bay.
Some of you may remember Johnny Damon, a first-round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 1992. He didn’t have issues quite as dramatic as Price’s well-documented bouts, but it did take some time for him to adjust to the brighter lights, too. Damon signed a four-year deal with Boston following the 2001 season - the only one he spent in Oakland. Playing centerfield and leading off almost exclusively, Damon made one of two career all-star appearances in his first season with the Sox, but he slipped slightly in his second year, hitting just .273 with 12 home runs and 63 RBI.
Damon bounced back in his third season, though. He finished second on the team in batting average (.304), behind only Manny Ramirez and hit 20 home runs, drove in 94 runs from the leadoff spot and finished with 19 stolen bases. Damon also scored 123 runs, finishing second in Major League Baseball in that category, but he saved his best performance for the postseason. I’m sure many of you remember the two home runs - including one grand slam - he hit in Game 7 of the historic 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. The ones that keyed and made official the greatest postseason comeback in sports history. And then he collected six hits and another home run in the four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals that ended an 86-year title drought for the Sox. Not bad.
I just can’t find many bad things to say about Price, who has consistently draws high praise for being a fantastic teammate by those that interact with him every day. Through his years in Tampa Bay, Detroit, Toronto and Boston, Price has had plenty of different teammates, and we’ve only ever heard good things about his clubhouse presence.
With just four relief appearances since 2008, did the guy say a word when Manager John announced he was going to pitch relief for the last month of the regular season and the quick postseason appearance the Sox made last year? Yup, he did. With 259 career starts under his belt and a sore elbow, he said, “If we make it to October and I throw the ball extremely well coming out of the ’pen, it doesn’t matter that I wasn’t a starter. I just want to help these guys win.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Shining in his new role, Price made five appearances between the regular season and the ALDS, pitching 15.1 shutout innings with 19 strikeouts, four walks and seven hits allowed. It was the guy Boston signed to what’s still the sixth-largest deal in the league. Sure, it wasn’t in the role we had expected him to play, but he took the ball, dominated, and he didn’t publicly complain about it once.
You can love him, you can hate him, you can complain about his contract or his postseason record all damn day if you want, but I will hear none of it. I’ll take that guy on my team any day of the week.