The most expensive pitcher in Major League Baseball history is injured, seemingly declining and at war with the media.
Everyone had reasons for optimism when the sides agreed to a record seven-year, $217 million deal in 2015. He was the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner, and coming off his second ERA title. They were a team that badly needed pitching. A perfect union, indeed.
But perhaps that's why it should have been expected to turn bad.
The preamble was inauspicious yet innocent. Price disappointed on the mound in 2016, turning in a 3.99 ERA in 35 regular-season starts plus one dud in the postseason. But off the mound, he kept his cool.
Now in 2017, stuff has gotten real.
Price, who'll turn 32 on Aug. 26, has pitched to a solid 3.82 ERA in 11 starts. But a barking left elbow sidelined him for all of April and most of May, and now it has him back on the disabled list.
With Price out, there's no time like the present to dissect what's going on between him and the local media. Because, boy howdy, is it something.
Here's the need-to-know timeline:
- June 7: Price tells Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe that he's done doing "personal interviews."
- June 8: Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald reports on an incident at Yankee Stadium in which Price profanely berated reporters, particularly Evan Drellich of CSN New England.
- June 30: Nick Cafardo of the Globe reports on an incident in which Price turned his ire on Hall of Fame pitcher and NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley during a team flight.
This would make for a fascinating case study in a class titled "Wait, What the Hell Happened to This Guy?"
Price used to be one of the coolest dudes in baseball, oozing charisma on social media and in real life. He had some ugly moments, such as going off on "NERDS" following a bad start in the 2013 playoffs. But in general, nothing too bad.
Boston itself seems to be turning the crank of Price's heel turn, as this paragraph in Shaughnessy's column reveals:
Boston's sports talk radio/TV cowboys (Rick Pitino's "Fellowship of the Miserable") love hooting on Price. The SportsHub's Jim Murray does a Price imitation that's radio gold. Social and mainstream media have gleefully jumped in. Everybody loves Chris Sale and Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, but nobody loves David Price.
No surprise, right? Boston has a history of harsh treatment of star athletes, not to mention a less-than-stellar track record with race relations—Britni De La Cretaz covered that well at DigBoston.com.
If Price, who's African-American, is feeling the barbs of these tendencies, the best thing he could do is address them head-on and speak truths that need to be heard. It would be a noble and potentially valuable crusade.
But instead of a victim with a gripe, he's cast himself as a bully who can't even pick good fights.
In the June 8 incident, Price picked a fight over a tweet by Drellich that actually seemed to support his no-personal-interviews policy.
In the June 30 incident, he picked a fight over a throwaway remark. According to Shaughnessy, Eckersley said "Yuck!" in response to Eduardo Rodriguez's poor pitching line in a minor league rehab start. For Price, that was far enough over the line to warrant another profane scolding.
"Standing up for my teammates," Price said, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. "Whatever crap I catch for that, I'm fine with it."
But that raises the question of what Price considers fair coverage, and something he told reporters (Bradford included) about Eckersley several weeks later catches the eye: "Ever since that's happened, he's been really good. He's said a lot of positive stuff about everybody in this clubhouse."
It's neither Drellich's nor Eckersley's job to sing the praises of the Red Sox.
It's Drellich's job to report the news. It's Eckersley's job to provide accurate commentary. That's inevitably going to involve telling it like it is about things that are less than awesome.
Like, for example, a rehab start that includes nine hits and six runs in three innings. Saying "Yuck!" to that isn't character assassination.
In Price's head, the two big battles in his media war sprang from unfair slights. In reality, they sprang from two guys doing their jobs.
In the Price vs. Eckersley feud, Red Sox fans are backing Eck. That became clear when he received a standing ovation at Fenway Park on Tuesday, which Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald got on video:
Jason Mastrodonato @JMastrodonato
Big time ovation for Eck from the Fenway crowd tonight: https://t.co/rMlbtL6osz2017-8-2 00:24:01
“I didn’t know how to react,” Eckersley said, per Buckley. “It was weird. You’re getting cheered for getting yelled at. It was weird.”
If Price's media feud is less about venting and more about trying to fill a leadership void in the Boston clubhouse following David Ortiz's retirement, that's also backfiring.
Dustin Pedroia, a 12-year Red Sox veteran, called the whole situation a "distraction" in a recent chat with ESPN.com's Scott Lauber and other reporters. Meanwhile, Ortiz and fellow Red Sox legend Wade Boggs have suggested Price needs to chill out.
Of course, nothing can sweep extracurricular strife under the rug like a fine performance on the field. The Red Sox would be getting that if Price were pitching like his best self, and it would render his petty war with the media nothing more than a silly sideshow.
But at the risk of straying into the kind of commentary that's apparently out of bounds for Price, he just isn't his best self anymore.
Though Price was mostly good and very durable in 2016, it's impossible to twist reality into an argument that he lived up to expectations. With his decreased velocity and career worsts in home runs allowed (30) and OPS against (.721), there were also warning signs that it wouldn't be a one-off.
Fast-forward to this year, and the elbow trouble that's found Price is as unsurprising as it is unwelcome. He's past 30, and he pitched more innings than anyone from 2010 to 2016. It would be a bigger surprise if his elbow stopped barking than if it became a more serious problem.
Even when he was pitching, Price was still struggling to stave off decline. The tale was told in his peripherals, such as a strikeout rate continuing to trend down and a hard-hit rate that remains elevated:
Thus, the bedrock layer of doom and gloom underneath all the other layers of doom and gloom: Price and the Red Sox may be stuck with each other.
Yes, his contract allows him to opt out after 2018. He told Peter Abraham of the Globe, however, that he has no intention to do so. But the way things are going, that promise rings hollow.
Price would be spurning four years and $127 million if he did opt out. A reasonable man would do that only if he believed he could do better on the open market.
But Price wouldn't get four years and $127 million if he were to hit the open market right now. And given the circumstances, it's beyond doubtful that a better deal will be out there next year. Even if he has to do so begrudgingly, taking the money he already has in hand will be the smart play.
So, good luck to Price on finding peace in Boston, as well as getting healthy and back on track.
And good luck to the Red Sox, who have a lot of money riding on all of the above.