Boston Red Sox: David Price is an albatross

David Price was scratched from his scheduled start against the Yankees on Wednesday due to numbness in his fingers.

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(Photo Credit: REUTERS/JIM COWSERT)

In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the ship’s crew is burdened by the weight of the dead albatross that had been wrongfully shot. The good omens the albatross once brought abandoned the Mariner and his crew, replaced by misfortune as the Mariner is forced to wear the dead albatross around his neck.

When the Boston Red Sox signed David Price to a seven-year, $217m contract, there was the perception—mainly amongst the Fenway faithful—the Red Sox would benefit from the hard-throwing lefty who had come off a strong 2015 campaign. Amongst others there was criticism, a sign of the ill omens looming on the horizon; despite a combined 2.45 ERA between his time with Detroit and then Toronto, Price still imploded in the postseason to the tune of a 7.20 ERA in 10 innings. 

It was a risk worth taking for the Red Sox, but like the ship’s crew, starving while entrapped in the icebergs of the northern waters, the desire for immediate satisfaction has backfired. It was announced on Tuesday, before a three-game set with the Yankees where Price was scheduled to pitch the second game, that the southpaw was being flown back to Boston to receive testing on his pitching hand. It was detailed earlier in the week that Price had been battling poor circulation his entire life, and it was at the forefront of his struggles against the Yankees on April 11 where he surrendered four runs in one inning.

The reality facing the Red Sox is this: despite having an opt-out clause in his contract after this season, the likelihood of Price forsaking the remaining $127m owed to him is small. 2017 was marred by his inability to stay on the field and to stay out of the headlines, so why would a team take on the additional baggage for a player who remains unsuccessful when the games really count in October?

And so it is that the Red Sox have been met with misfortune since signing Price to what was the most lucrative contract ever signed by a pitcher. 

And boy, do the Red Sox wish they had a mulligan.

Performance hasn’t matched the Price

2016, Price’s first year in Boston, was perhaps the only time where it seemed as if the deal was worth its value.

For the sixth time in his career, and for the third consecutive season, Price pitched over 200 innings. An ERA of 3.99 was unusually high for someone who finished second in the Cy Young race a year prior, but a .654 win-loss percentage (17-9) and a 3.0 wins above replacement (WAR) certainly made him the leader of the pitching staff before the Chris Sale Era. But it was all downhill after that.

Two separate elbow injuries limited him to just 11 starts throughout 2017, and he found himself no longer the leader of the rotation when the Red Sox acquired Sale from the Chicago White Sox. His clubhouse rebellion against the media dominated the headlines on a weekly basis, culminating to when he confronted Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley on a charter flight during one particular road trip. During the playoffs, he was relegated to a role in the bullpen, where the $30m a year southpaw thrived in 6.2 innings without yielding a single run.

2018 started off promising as in his first two starts, he pitched 14 consecutive scoreless innings, albeit against the lowly Tampa Bay Rays on both occasions. A first-inning implosion against the Yankees, chalked up to the cold weather and inability to find feeling in his fingertips, was neutralized by a five-inning performance of one-run ball against the Los Angeles Angels.

But in starts against the Oakland A’s, Tampa Bay Rays (for a third time), and Texas Rangers, Price allowed 16 earned runs in 17 innings. His ERA has ballooned north of five runs, and a 1.41 WHIP has indicated he has lost command of the strike zone to further exploit his inability to get people out.

Plagued by another ailment

Neither Price nor the Red Sox would contend his struggles over the last three starts had to do with the lost feeling in his hand. Manager Alex Cora said the sensation reoccurred during a bullpen session on Sunday, which was promptly shut down. 

The severity of this ailment remains to be seen, but it marks the third time in two years there has been a serious concern over Price’s health and durability. Is there a connection between his elbow injuries of last year and now this pins-and-needles sensation in his fingertips?

Cora has said there isn’t, and perhaps there truly isn’t any correlation, but now it seems as if Price’s pitching arm has become as fragile as his ego, if not more so. 

Whatever Price’s reputation was before his tenure in Boston has been replaced by an image of such fragility, and a possible toxicity within the clubhouse. His qualities as being a “leader” seem to lack the actual leadership qualities that simultaneously gives and receives respect amongst his peers. After all, to stand up for your teammate after hearing what you believed to be an unfair assessment is one thing. But to publicly embarrass and ridicule a pitcher with the pedigree such as Eckersley is something else entirely. 

And now the Red Sox are stuck with a pitcher who can’t back up his words with actions. They are stuck with a pitcher being paid $30m a year to pitch, and yet it seems there is always something that prevents him from actually pitching. When he does pitch, it’s often marred by underperformance, and the moments where he lives up to his value seem few and far between. 

Both parties have dug themselves into a hole. Do the Red Sox, who already have the highest payroll in baseball, want to be paying Price his owed money until 2023, when he’s 37? He’ll opt out of his contract at the end of the season if they’re lucky, but is he willing to walk away from not only guaranteed money but a lot of it? If he does, he won’t see a sum like it ever again.

The Red Sox, like the damned crew of the Ancient Mariner, shot their shot, and now they must deal with the consequences. 

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