David Price's Elbow Could Make or Break Red Sox's World Series Dreams

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 2, 2017

FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 25:  David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox plays catch with Make-A-Wish recipient Robert Alpert, 10, of  Wareham, Massachusetts before a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins on February 25, 2017 at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida.   (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The last thing any team wants to hear in spring training is the sound of a star pitcher breaking down.

That's doubly true when the team is the Boston Red Sox and the star pitcher is David Price.

Boston's $217 million ace was set to make his spring debut Sunday, but that's not going to happen now due to sudden forearm soreness. And from the sound of things, it's possible Price may not take the mound for some time.

Red Sox skipper John Farrell told reporters, including MLB.com's Ian Browne, that it's nothing new for the 31-year-old Price to feel soreness in his forearm/elbow area. But he also said this incident of soreness has "a little bit more intensity to it." Thus, the MRI and second opinion.

"We're taking every precaution," Farrell said. "Yes, we are concerned, as we would be with any player. That's why we're taking every step and scratching him for Sunday."

The Red Sox are seeking second opinions from Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Neil ElAttrache. These, of course, are two names associated with Tommy John surgery. The same goes for the terms "forearm soreness" and "MRI."

It's not hard to read what it says between the lines: Uh oh.

The one positive here is that this is happening now and not next year.

Even if Price does go under the knife this spring, he could come back and have a strong 2018 season and use the opt-out in his contract. If the Red Sox's hope is that they'll be spared from having to pay him $127 million after 2018, that hope is still intact.

But this is only a small consolation relative to what losing Price would mean for 2017.

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 12:  David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox walks off the mound after pitching against the Baltimore Orioles in the eighth inning on September 12, 2016  at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Following a 93-win season and an AL East title in 2016, the Red Sox entered spring training as the clear AL East favorite and one of the American League's top World Series contenders. 

Their starting pitching was a big reason why. With the newly acquired Chris Sale joining Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and Price, a former Cy Young winner himself, Boston's rotation was headed by a trio that any team could envy.

If Price is removed from the equation, the Red Sox rotation won't look as capable of spearheading a World Series run.

Yeah, yeah. There's an easy quip to make about Price's hypothetical absence being addition by subtraction in light of his poor postseason track record. The left-hander has a 5.54 ERA in 15 career appearances in October. That's well north of his career 3.21 ERA in the regular season.

However, the first step toward the World Series is earning a ticket to October in the regular season. Make no mistake: A healthy Price would have a huge hand in helping the Red Sox take that step.

Yes, Price did follow his second American League ERA title in 2015 with just a 3.99 ERA in 2016. And yes, he did lose some zip off his normally mid-90s fastball.

Yet he still kept the strikeouts (8.9 K/9) coming while keeping walks (2.0 BB/9) at bay. He was rewarded for the most part. He put up a 3.39 ERA in his final 28 starts following a slow start, and led baseball with 230 total innings.

It's not surprising that projection systems such as Steamer and ZiPS have Price pegged to pick up where he left off in 2017, penciling him in for an ERA around 3.50 and over 200 innings.

David Price's 2017 Projections
SystemGSIPSOBBHRERA
Steamer3220820046243.53
ZiPS3221822143263.47
FanGraphs

If the question is whether the Red Sox have someone who can replace that production, the answer is simple: They don't.

The first man up would be Eduardo Rodriguez, who's the odd man out in a back-end mix that includes 2016 All-Stars Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright. The lefty is a former top prospect who had a strong rookie year in 2015 and was last seen having a strong finish to 2016. The Red Sox could do worse.

It would be asking a lot of Rodriguez to fill Price's shoes, though. His results haven't always matched his stuff, and he's struggled to average even six innings per start.

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Eduardo Rodriguez #52 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Fenway Park on September 15, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

To boot, having Rodriguez in the rotation out of the gate would nix the only good piece of starting pitching depth the Red Sox have. After Rodriguez, the next guys in line are Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Roenis Elias. Each comes with serious question marks.

That would put extra pressure on Sale, Porcello, Pomeranz, Wright and Rodriguez to stay healthy. A tall order for any rotation, and it would be tough for the Red Sox to call in cavalry from outside the organization.

All of Dave Dombrowski's wheeling and dealing has sucked the club's farm system dry. Per Baseball America, it's gone from being a top-five system in each of the previous three seasons to the No. 14 system going into 2017. There aren't many pieces to part with in an impact trade.

If the Red Sox can't replace Price's reliability inside their starting rotation, it would fall on their bullpen to help pick up the slack. That would surely require it to pitch more innings than the measly 470.1 innings it handled last year.

From Craig Kimbrel to Tyler Thornburg to Joe Kelly and others, Boston's bullpen does have the arms for the task. But the danger would be wearing those arms out before October arrives. Given the importance of bullpens in today's postseason environment, that wouldn't be good.

In short, it's hard to understate how much of a blow losing Price would be.

At the least, Craig Edwards of FanGraphs is right about how Price's being sidelined would turn the 2017 AL East race from the Red Sox's plaything into more of a toss-up. At worst, his absence would create a ripple effect that would deal major damage to the club's World Series aspirations.

All the Red Sox can do now is cross their fingers for good news. They're going to need it.

 

Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

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