If the night is truly darkest before the dawn, it’s time for David Price to wake up.
After nearly a season of trying to make chicken salad out of Price’s performances — two columns a month shouldn’t have been hard to wring out of a $217 million man — I’m out of alternate ways to alternately label the chickenshit with which I have to work. He has been bad and it has been no fun to write about him. I want it to stop just as bad as you do.
There are still reasons to think he can turn it around. His Deserved Run Average is 3.39, which is pretty good, all things considering. It’s basically what Rick Porcello (3.32) is putting up. It’s better than Jake Arrieta’s 3.42 mark, for what it’s worth, but it’s increasingly a struggle to care about the stats that have predicted a rebound for Price all season — even if they’re as true today as they were in May.
How bad has Price been? Well, I read this writeup of a Felger & Mazz segment and agreed with just about every word out of Tony Massarotti’s mouth, no more so than these:
‘Why aren’t the Red Sox better than they are,’ there are a lot of little reasons, but the big one is him. It’s his fault he’s not pulling his weight. They’re paying him $31 million to be at the front of the rotation and lead them at critical times.”
(The ones with which I disagreed concerned Price’s “mental toughness, balls, whatever you want to call it;” I think these are silly ways of thinking about it, but, as Ty Law so eloquently put it, we all gotta eat.)
If Mazz is wrong, and I am wrong by extension, the Red Sox’s biggest problem remains pitching depth and/or injuries, but at this point I think Price is at least solidly in the discussion for the season’s biggest scapegoat, should things end poorly. I do not agree that things will end poorly or that there should be a scapegoat if they do, necessarily, but I cannot deny that the $31 million man is likely to have the target on his back in such a scenario.
If the Red Sox win the World Series, and David Price is the World Series MVP, is all forgiven? I have to think the answer is yes.
The bigger question is what constitutes things ending poorly, as opposed to things ending positively. Are we an all-or-nothing bunch? World Series title or bust? I think, circumstances willing, it’s entirely likely. When Mets fans immediately turned on the team after its miracle run to the World Series (if only in my Gmail inbox, but oh dear, were they ravaged), I realized that certain teams simply cannot win by winning “enough.” The only “enough” they can win is every last game. I think the Red Sox are one of those teams.
This leads to an interesting thought experiment. If the Red Sox win the World Series, and David Price is the World Series MVP, is all forgiven? I have to think the answer is yes. We still like to cluck about J.D. Drew in these parts, but a single — and singular — grand slam wiped his figurative debts to Red Sox Nation clean for all-time. As good as that was, it was one swing of the bat in the ALCS. A World Series MVP is something altogether different.
They both still meet a certain inarguable standard of excellence, though, so a better thought experiment is how we’d view Price if the Red Sox make the wild card game and he pitches it beautifully, sending the team into the traditional playoffs with a fire lit under its collective butt. Say even that he puts together a couple good starts in the ALDS and ALCS before the team is upended, maybe as Steven Wright finally unravels at a bad time — but hey, he got us here, right? Pay a man in peanuts, and you can look at the bright side; pay him $31 million, and it’s something altogether different.
All of which is a long way of saying that if the narrative on Price was that he was great in the regular season and poor in the playoffs, albeit in small sample sizes, what if he turns the scenario on its head? What if he rounds into form just as the baseball seems to matter more (in late August and September) and truly matters more (in October)? I’m sure he’ll still be dinged for the subpar regular season, but there’s a nonzero chance in two months Price has given us something undeniably positive.
If it’s going to start, there’s no time like the present. As Mazz and others said this week, the team really can’t afford, figuratively speaking, the performances he has been turning in, even if they can afford the contract just fine. In a way the money is quickly becoming beside the point. The question isn’t whether Price is good anymore. The question is more: Dude, are you okay?
Look, I’m pro-labor, and I’m happy Price got his money. He’s still a better pitcher than John Henry, one presumes. This isn’t quite the nightmare scenario, because it isn’t 2012 and Bobby Valentine isn’t his manager and the whole goddamn building isn’t on fire, but it’s still a bad dream. This isn’t fine, and it isn’t fun. The deeper we get into the season, the further away a rebound feels, even if it must be — has to be! — closer than ever. The question isn’t how we’ll feel when it gets here. The question is if we’ll feel anything at all.
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