Tomase: Hard to imagine David Price will opt out, even though that would be best for everyone involved

John Tomase
October 30, 2018 - 10:26 pm
David Price

Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports

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The Red Sox owe their World Series championship to David Price as much as any other player. Once he solved the riddle against the Astros, he pitched lights out.

He easily could’ve won World Series MVP over Steve Pearce – Price would’ve gotten my vote – for winning Games 2 and 5 against the Dodgers, the latter with one of the best playoff starts (7 IP, 1 ER) in Red Sox history, all things considered.

He then gloated, “I hold all the cards now,” in a petty and not altogether unsurprising postgame press conference that I suppose he had earned, although there’s something to be said for winning graciously. But whatever – who cares what he said when his actions spoke so eloquently. He manned up on the biggest stage and will forever be associated with this title.

He’s also at a crossroads. He must decide by Wednesday whether to opt out of the final four years and $127 million remaining on the seven-year, $217 million deal he signed before the 2016 season.

While it’s borderline impossible to imagine Price leaving nine figures on the table to test a free agent market that has recently proven hostile to aging starters, this is Price, and his postgame comments made it apparent that whatever animosity he harbors towards Boston, it didn’t just magically disappear with a World Series trophy.

While it would be reassuring to claim that Price’s feelings of disenchantment trace solely to the media, it would also be false. He has never shared a warm relationship with the fans, and if you don’t believe me, just consider the words of his father, Bonnie, in an interview with Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports after the clincher.

Here’s the relevant passage:

“He got a ring. He fulfilled his commitment,” Bonnie said. “The day they signed him, he said he wanted to win a World Series. He’s done that. Now they can leave him alone. Fans can.”

Bonnie doesn’t think they will. He knows baseball. He knows Boston. He knows the marriage of the two supercharges emotions. He knows his son will have bad games, bad stretches, and that loyalty goes only so far. He’s cynical because he saw what baseball and Boston had done to his son. “Wouldn’t it have worn on you?” Bonnie asked. “Yeah. It did. But he’s a good man. He’s a good man.”

Perhaps that’s true. Price’s teammates swear by him and seemed to take their cue from him in a defiant postgame clubhouse. But it’s also true that Price brought much of the vitriol on himself, particularly when he embarrassed franchise icon Dennis Eckersley on a flight for no other reason than because he could, and then compounded the problem by refusing to apologize until it was way too late.

Similarly, the questions about Price’s postseason struggles were entirely fair, especially after he failed to last even two innings vs. the Yankees in his 2018 playoff debut. If he wants to claim victimhood over Fortnite hysteria (I may have piled on) or the way a joke about hoping to avoid the All-Star Game were twisted, he’ll get no argument here.

When you consider Price’s opt-out decision through this more complicated lens, his choice suddenly isn’t so obvious. Having won a title that might not have been possible without him, maybe now is a good time to make a break. His playoff performance could certainly pique the curiosity of a contender, though it’s hard to imagine he’d pass a physical on a $100 million-plus deal, thanks to a 2017 elbow injury that nearly required surgery.

Some took Price’s, “I hold all the cards now,” proclamation to be in reference to his opt-out, even though he was clearly discussing the narrative of playoff failure that can never been thrown in his face again. In this respect, Price does hold all the cards. “It’s in his court,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said.

So what should we want, what should the team want, and what should Price want? Deep down, the answer is probably the same for all three: opt out and leave.

From the team’s perspective, Price is 33, and though he didn’t like being mocked for having a magic elbow, reason and logic say he probably faces a reckoning. Injured elbows don’t get healthier as a player ages. From a long-term standpoint, the Red Sox would be better off watching Price leave, even if it hurts them in the short term, to start spreading his money around to ensure this title window doesn’t slam shut. Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr., will need to be paid soon, and that money’s going to have to come from somewhere.

From a fan perspective, Price will never be cuddly. There’s too much baggage. At best, we’re talking an arm’s-length respect falling short of mutual adoration. Price is what would’ve happened if John Lackey had stuck around for more than half a season after the 2013 championship. Fans hated Lackey until they loved him, and that might work for fans, but players don’t forget.

Pump Price full of truth serum and I find it hard to believe he’d suggest remaining in Boston is his first choice. I also doubt he’d seriously consider walking away from $127 million without some assurances that he could recoup those earnings elsewhere.

The best starter on last year’s market, Yu Darvish, didn’t sign until Valentine’s Day. He landed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs and then contributed virtually nothing, going 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA in eight starts before shutting it down with a stress reaction in his right elbow. A month later, former Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta earned $75 million from the Phillies before going 10-11.

Both of them hit free agency at age 31, whereas Price is 33. If he wants to wade into similarly unfavorable market conditions, so be it, but Price isn’t dumb. He’d be leaving a ton of money on the table for no good reason.

That said, let’s not kid ourselves: I suspect the only thing keeping Price in Boston is cash. That’s a powerful motivator, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing for all parties involved if Price decided to leave on top.

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