As always with David Price, it’s complicated.
The 34-year-old lefthander is a lot of things. Cy Young winner. Longtime workhorse now pestered by injuries. World Series hero. Dour downer. J.D. Drew dominator. Would-be leader whose idea of leadership sometimes leaves teammates looking bad. Enigma.
I suppose it’s fitting that the possible end of Price’s Red Sox tenure comes with its own bewildering complications.
As you may have probably heard if you follow this wonderful sport of baseball and all of its increasingly aggravating money-driven subplots, the Red Sox’ primary plan this offseason is not to do everything within their impressive means to assemble a roster capable of winning a fifth World Series title this century.
Oh, I’m sure they’d love to win another one, but it’s going to come with a higher degree of difficulty considering their clear first priority: to reduce payroll below the $208 million luxury-tax threshold.
It’s understandable that they’d want to do that. It really is. There are genuine consequences to being over the threshold, as colleague Alex Speier explained in informative depth recently, and there are undeniable benefits to getting under the threshold every three years.
It’s good business and good for the ballclub in the long term to want to do this. The complications come in figuring out how to do it after having a $243.5 million payroll in 2019.
Price, enigmatic as he is, is both a solution and a complication.
Of all of the options to reduce the payroll, trading Price to a team that missed out on the free-agent bonanza that included Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler, and new Yankee/hairless cat Gerrit Cole makes the most sense, at least on the surface. Price is due $96 million over the next three years, the remainder of what was a record-setting, seven-year, $217 million deal he took to join the Red Sox before the 2016 season.
He can still pitch — he struck out a career-best 10.7 batters per nine innings last season, and had a 3.24 ERA in the first half before injuries altered his season. He finished with a 7-5 record and a 4.28 ERA in just 107⅓ innings.
But he’s a decent gamble to age well if his “special’’ elbow holds up, he should have been the World Series MVP in 2018, and he should have appeal to big-payroll teams such as the Dodgers and Angels, and perhaps even the Padres, Twins, and more, depending upon how much money the Red Sox swallow to move on from him.
In a perfect Carmine-tinted baseball world in which the Red Sox had no need to get under some tax threshold, I’d actually prefer the Red Sox to keep Price. There’s a chance he bounces back strong, and there’s something off-kilter about the big-market Red Sox paying another team — perhaps even a legitimate competitor — to take a pitcher who has a reasonable chance of still being an asset.
But in the real world, where there are so many variables to building a baseball team? I can accept trading Price and eating some money to do so. It’s probably their best bet to get under the threshold. We might miss his pitching. I doubt we’ll miss his personality.
I can live with that. But then you see rumors/speculation/conjecture such as MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd’s suggestion that the Dodgers could trade A.J. Pollock, Ross Stripling, and a trio of prospects to the Red Sox for Price and MOOKIE BETTS. And suddenly, giving up on baseball doesn’t seem like such a rash idea, and checking out of society altogether to travel the countryside by locomotive is at least a life choice worth considering.
There’s just something fundamentally wrong about the notion that the Red Sox would have to entice another big-market, high-payroll team to take on an expensive but accomplished player by including the second-best player in baseball heading into his prime.
That’s warped, and any Red Sox fan that looks at this and says, “Hmm, I wonder if we could get Max Muncy too!’’ has spent too much time playing fantasy general manager and not nearly enough time appreciating Betts, the most well-rounded superstar the Red Sox have developed in my lifetime. Fans should be howling outside the gates of Fenway to make sure he’s not traded.
Price should appeal to the Dodgers as an asset unto himself. The general manager who drafted him with the 2007 No. 1 overall pick in Tampa Bay, Andrew Friedman, is now the boss in LA.
Price was excellent as a Ray — he flashed onto the scene by blowing away Drew and the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS – and presumably, Friedman appreciates him in a way he is not appreciated in Boston, Price’s fourth professional stop.
Dodger Stadium is the scene of Price’s greatest professional accomplishment in guiding the Red Sox to the 2018 World Series crown. It would be a great fit for him, and perhaps a great one for the title-hungry Dodgers, too. It shouldn’t be too hard to make the money work.
There’s no need to include Betts. That it’s even accepted as a possibility is a damning confirmation that we’ve lost the appreciation for greatness, and that we’re too willing to let it go in the ridiculous long-shot hopes that any alleged prospect acquired in return becomes half the player Betts is.
Getting under the luxury-tax threshold is wise. Trading Mookie Betts — as a deal sweetener, of all things — to make it happen would be the exasperating opposite, a sad train to nowhere we want to go.