The Price You Pay

I’ll start by saying that this is not an attack on David Price. Longtime readers know that I’ve never been his biggest fan, but this isn’t about my personal feelings about him or my affection for Dennis Eckersley.

This is about money, and what’s best for the Boston Red Sox.

David Price currently has the most lucrative pitching contract in MLB history. Also currently, the Red Sox are trying to figure out how to get under the $208 million Competitive Balance Threshold in 2020. Add the Mookie Betts issue as the cherry on top of the spending sundae, and the Red Sox need to get creative fast.

David Price was a career 3.09-ERA pitcher who’d won the prestigious Cy Young Award and twice held the ERA title when he signed his 7-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox in December 2015. To this day, no pitcher has ever topped that Price tag (get it?).

In his first four seasons in Boston, Price is 46-24 with a 3.84 ERA over 588 innings in 103 games (98 starts). But his time here has been mired with injuries and performance issues, ranging from “tingle fingers,” to allergies, to an elbow that somehow healed itself. He spent a large portion of the 2017 season and its short postseason run as a reliever, a $32M/year reliever. He had a surgical procedure at the end of this season. Even when healthy, he’s still not consistent enough for the money, nowhere near the player he was when he was signed. For the most part, Price has not lived up to his massive contract, though the same can be said for most players who sign massive, lucrative deals; the expectations are almost always too high to actually be met. Price had an opt-out in his contract at the of last season, but after his October heroics and seeing fellow stars tread water in the free agent market, he understandably chose to remain in Boston for the remaining four years.

If the Red Sox could manage to trade Price, his $30+ million per season would go a long way towards their goal of being Scrooges in the next decade. But it’s unlikely any team will be willing to take on the full $90+ million left on his contract, so Boston would have to eat some of that money, something they’d probably do because it would still be considerably less than they’d have to pay Price. They’d also probably have to package him with a controlled young player to sweeten the deal on an expensive, 34-year-old Price. Left-fielder Andrew Benintendi, who seriously underperformed in 2019, but is just entering his first year of arbitration, would be enticing to many teams.

If the Red Sox really want to keep Mookie Betts, then almost no one on the team is safe. They have a trio of expensive, struggling starters in Eovaldi (3 years, $54M), Price (3 years, $96M), and Sale (5 years, $145M). But Sale and Xander Bogaerts, the team’s homegrown, unofficial captain, are the only two players on the payroll with full No-Trade clauses in their contracts. And of the starting pitchers, Price has the highest AAV relative to the time left on his contract.

Price’s paycheck for the season is nearly half the Tampa Bay Rays’ entire payroll. Boston’s new Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, formerly of Tampa, will likely want to reinvigorate the pitching staff with some young, controllable arms; he has no time for overpaid under-performers. Setting October 2018 aside, Price has underperformed here. At this point, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to earn his keep, so if the Sox want to get cheap, getting his salary off the books will go a long way.

Photo: Adam Glanzman / Getty Images

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