David Price

Price Check: When $217 Million Doesn’t Matter

At some point this afternoon, David Price, the $217 million man, will throw his first pitch as a member of the Boston Red Sox, and it will cost you almost nothing.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Even before you account for Price’s whopping paycheck, it’s a wonder that he’s in Boston at all. We’re used to watching big-ticket players ply their trade for the Sox, but not since Manny Ramirez — another No. 24 — has a player come onstage quite like Price, and just like Manny’s signing, it signals something of a tectonic shift in Major League Baseball. In almost every way, Price, like Ramirez before him, has been the prototypical Yankees signing and Boston enemy-for-life right up until signing with the Olde Town Team. For Price, it goes straight to his position, size and build, which evokes Yankees big-ticket purchases Randy Johnson and CC Sabathia. If you close your eyes, it’s easy to see Price in pinstripes.

And why not? He’s always been an enemy. Price made his first big-stage appearance in the 2008 ALCS, in which he closed out Game 7 against Boston, and has logged more innings against the Sox in his career than he has against any other team that is not the Yankees.  He has yakked at David Ortiz. He bounced from one Sox rival to another, from Tampa Bay (who may be more hated by younger fans than the Yankees), former division rivals Detroit (who left the AL East in 1995) and north-of-the-border rivals Toronto (who were dead as a doornail for decades until Price showed up). He even beef-flirted with Sox writer Jared Carrabis on Twitter, repeatedly.

Price chose us as much as we chose him, and he knows that the Boston media will put him under a microscope. This column is that microscope.

Mostly, though, he was good, and shut down the Sox pretty handily. His 3.08 ERA against the team is a single hundredth of a point away from his 3.09 mark heading into the season, and he’s 104-56 against everyone and 11-6 against the Sox. Given that creepy symmetry, if anyone knows who he is, it’s us, and Price knows who we are, probably better than we do. He chose us as much as we chose him, and he knows that the Boston media will put him under a microscope. This column is that microscope. Welcome to Price Check — a biweekly deep-dive on the new de facto face of the franchise.

All that said, this column does not exist to hold Price to task for his tanks of money. There will be much discussion of whether he’s “earning” that money elsewhere, but not here. In my opinion, he earned it by getting to the point where he signed his name on the contract, at which point the money was his, be his ERA 2.20 or 5.50. That is all anyone ever has had to do, full stop. Squabbling over whether it’s a “good deal” for the Sox going forward ignores the fact that the Sox’s financial situation is like very few others in the league. Case in point: They signed Price even while burdened by the likely  dead weight of the Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval contracts, which could cripple other teams (let’s see how the Royals’ nutty Sal Perez hampers them down the line). The Sox don’t need to worry about financial flexibility. As we’ll see, they make their own money, and in doing so, also make their own luck.

Instead of focusing on the cash, this column will be about celebrating ace-level pitching from a true Sox superstar for the first time since Pedro Martinez toed the rubber. Of the two other potential candidates for this extremely subjective honor, Curt Schilling was great but unctuous even in his playing days, and Jon Lester was too under-the-radar (and happy about it, provided he actually gets happy) to be a national star. Price was one of the faces of baseball well before Dave Dombrowski handed him a hunk of cheddar and is no less so now. Maybe in a few years he’ll peter out like Sabathia, going through the late-contract motions now, and The Big Unit, who was bitten by the AL’s deamons pretty much the first time he pitched up a ball in Yankee Stadium. But there is never any time like the present, and we have a legit ace now.

And yes, he cost a lot, but again, so what? I was happy the Sox went and snatched Hanley Ramirez and, yes, Pablo Sandoval last winter, and I’m glad they landed Price now. What is the ultimate cost to me of that decision? Maybe $10, in the ultimate trickle-down of television fees and licensed goods purchases? If so, I consider it $10 well-spent.  To that end, I’m making Price’s a contract a good business decision for me. I don’t care if he earns his money, but I’m sure gonna get my let’s-say $10 worth.

It is, to be sure, a privilege of rooting for a big-market team. It’s also important to note that the same couldn’t be said if Price was on a team that was actively pulling on the public teat for money. The Braves, for example, are hitting up Cobb County taxpayers for $400 million, and had they signed Price, he’d cost the fans way more than that $10 I’m just sort of pulling out of thin air. As MarketWatch’s Jason Notte wrote in a December column, Fenway Sports Group is the rare ownership cabal that makes money by spending money — the easiest way to think about the whole thing is that the Red Sox buy their players in cash, whereas other, crappier teams, charge the players to you. You just get billed in a way you never notice it, which is, of course, the entire point.

With the Sox, there are no accounting tricks. They are a twin model franchise alongside the St. Louis Cardinals, the Yankees having been more or less broken up into two separate entities — self-importance and northeast brusque —  by entropy, rule changes and the descent and death of George Steinbrenner, starting sometime between when Dave Roberts left first base and ended up at second way back in 2004. He didn’t just steal a base; he stole part of the Yankees’ place in baseball’s firmament. Price, the non-Yankee, is the logical endpoint of all this. He’s our executioner turned our executioner. This column will be a tribute to the violence in his cutting down the rest of the league. Price is going to bring the pain, and we are going to love it, and we are going to do it right here.

Photo by Butch Dill/USA Today Sports Images

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