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by: John Tomase on Fri, 03/03/2017 - 11:54pm
David Price reached the gates of St. Peter on Friday, only to find his invitation momentarily misplaced. In the ensuring confusion, he darted back to Fort Myers. Disaster averted, at least for now.
What the last two days have reinforced, however, is just how mismatched the Red Sox and Price were from the beginning. That doesn't mean they won't yet make their union work. The Red Sox are loaded, and Price remains the right mix of conscientious and talented -- assuming his elbow obliges.
The problem traces back to the circumstances that brought Price to Boston in the first place. The Red Sox believed themselves desperate for a proven starter after a disastrous 2015 that cost GM Ben Cherington his job, unaware the eventual Cy Young Award winner already resided on their roster in Rick Porcello.
Price hit free agency at age 30, fresh off a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting and long overdue for a massive payday. After five-plus years in small-market Tampa followed by pit stops in Detroit and Toronto, the five-time All-Star and 2012 Cy Young winner had perfectly positioned himself to make more money than he could ever spend. He represented one of the safest bets to hit the market in years, a proven winner, great teammate, and legit alpha.
For the two sides to unite, however, would require each to compromise its core principles. Red Sox owner John Henry skeptically viewed 30-something pitchers as poor investments, no matter how talented, because they overwhelmingly risked diminishing returns. It's why he traded franchise favorite Jon Lester at the 2014 deadline, a move that required Henry to holster his considerable personal fondness for the cancer survivor and two-time champion. It's also why he OK'd an $82.5 million extension for Porcello before the pitcher had technically earned it, betting on the upside of youth.
Price, meanwhile, wanted to play for a supportive fanbase in a baseball-crazy market, preferably in the National League, where he could hit for the first time. It just so happened the Cardinals and Cubs reciprocated his interest. The former made him the largest offer in franchise history, roughly $180 million over seven years. The latter lurked on the periphery as an enticing alternative, with Price's former manager, Joe Maddon, leading one of baseball's best young rosters.
If we stop right here, the odds of Price landing in Boston feel remote. The Red Sox don't love the idea of committing seven years to a battle-worn pitcher.
Price's perspective isn't much better. He hasn't loved his social media interactions with Red Sox fans. "The amount of hatred I get from this fan base blows every other fan base away," he told WEEI.com in July of 2015 while with the Tigers. "Some of the things I get, I just know. Whenever I see something on Twitter, I know where it's from. That's part of it. I want no part of that. I want to be somewhere where I'm wanted by the entire fan base, not just half of it."
So what happened? A confluence of desperation and decimation put Price in box.
New Red Sox boss Dave Dombrowski made acquiring a front-end starter his primary objective, certainly a defensible position after the Porcello-Wade Miley-Joe Kelly-Justin Masterson debacle of 2015, when the Red Sox ranked 14th in the AL in ERA en route to a second straight last-place finish.
Dombrowski saw two options -- Price or Dodgers All-Star Zack Greinke. Dombrowski favored Price for logical reasons: two years younger, more proven in challenging offensive environments, familiarity from their time in Detroit. Price's resume sparkled.
Dombrowski convinced Henry to acquiesce on the age issue, in part because Price had proven so durable, and also because the prospect cost associated with acquiring an ace could potentially top the money paid Price. (Which the Sox learned when they shipped the jewels of their farm system to Chicago for Chris Sale).
Price simultaneously held a monster offer from the Cardinals, the offseason unfolding as he had hoped. All signs pointed to St. Louis.
But here's where desperation and decimation enter the equation. Dombrowski is a closer, and he wanted Price. So the Red Sox upped their proposal to Godfather territory and crushed the field. Who says no to $217 million? You would, I wouldn't, and Price didn't.
The very first question at his introductory press conference -- why have you struggled so much in the playoffs? -- set the tone. Price started slowly, his velocity dipped, and his mechanics meandered like a DeAndre Jordan free throw. Maybe it was Boston getting to him, in which case he never should've signed here. Maybe something in his arm was starting to go, in which case the Red Sox never should've pursued him.
And so here we are. After that disappointing debut, Price's social media skirmishes with disgruntled Red Sox fans reinforced the uneasy notion that he had chosen the wrong home. He nonetheless arrived at camp determined to make amends. No one questions his work ethic, desire, or intentions. Or ability, for that matter.
Then came the elbow soreness, an MRI, and a visit to Dr. James Andrews at baseball's pearly gates. Price's season suddenly in doubt, Andrews recommended against surgery for the time being. Manager John Farrell labeled it the "best-case scenario."
It's fair to ask if Henry, in a moment of quiet reflection, now questions the wisdom of forsaking his principles and opening the spigot for an aging starter. It's equally fair to wonder if Price regrets subjecting himself to an unforgiving fan base that embraces negativity zealously.
For now, both sides simply want Price to retake the mound in one piece. Maybe they'll still make this work. But bigger picture, there's a reason marriages built on shaky foundations so often end in divorce.