Only David Price knows what he wants. But we all know that after this season, he has options.
Next winter, Price can choose to either stay in Boston for the final four years of his seven-year, $217 million deal, or he can pack his bags and escape while he has the chance.
Price has an opt-out clause in his contract after 2018. That leads to questions about the future, but also, plenty of optimism for the present.
Full disclosure: I’ve never talked to Price, the Red Sox pitcher. I’ve been part of several media sessions that he held in the visitors’ clubhouse at Fenway Park while he played for the Tampa Bay Rays, while I was still a reporter on the scene. I’m not on the scene anymore, and I haven’t been since Price came to Boston.
That’s important to know, because I’m not pretending to be inside of Price’s head here. I’m just stating the facts.
And the fact of the matter is, Price can choose to leave after this season, if he wants.
Another fact is, Price has let the overly demanding and sometimes bitter atmosphere in Boston get the best of him. He admitted such when talking to the media at the beginning of spring training last month.
“I could have handled it better last year, absolutely” said Price.
That’s not to say his off-the-field reactions to the media affected his on-field production. Injuries were the cause of a disappointing second year with the Red Sox in 2017.
Price made just 11 starts due to elbow soreness that lingered throughout the season. He returned in mid-September, strictly as a reliever, and allowed zero runs in 8.2 innings out of the bullpen, while striking out 13.
In the postseason, Price was the Red Sox’ most reliable arm. He made just two appearances out of the bullpen in the ALDS against the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros, allowing zero runs in 6.2 innings and striking out six.
Everyone in Boston hopes it’s a sign of things to come in 2018.
Price began the season as the team’s No. 2 starter, behind Chris Sale. He’s already off to a strong start, picking up the Red Sox’ first win of the year, pitching seven scoreless innings in his season debut on Friday in Tampa Bay. Not bad for a guy who began the season at +2500 to win the AL Cy Young. Sale began the season as the favorite to win the award at +225.
If both Sale and Price stay healthy, they can be as dominant a one-two punch as the league will see this year. Health-aside, everyone knows what the Red Sox will be getting out of Sale. Last year, he established himself as the new “ace.”
The questions surround Price, not Sale. For good reason, of course. Price makes, on average, $31 million a season. That’s basically $1 million per start, which leads to an expectation. The expectation with Price is that, at $31 million a year, he’ll be consistently dominant.
Baseball fans, especially here in Boston, are well-rehearsed in sensing dominance. There’s a feeling of confidence that must run through your veins when the presumably dominant talent takes center stage. He must pass the eye test, which triggers the heart, which is worn on the sleeve in these parts.
Price, as good as he might have been in 35 starts during his first season with the Red Sox in 2016, didn’t set off the alarm in your brain every fifth game, which told you it was going to be a long night for the opposing team.
There’s incentive to meet those expectations this year. Because if Price does want out of Boston while still getting paid a pretty penny, then he could essentially treat this like a contract year.
Price has something to prove. Not just to the Red Sox, but also to the rest of the league if he has his sights set on free agency next winter at the age of 33.
But only he knows what he wants. We just know he has options.
And those options let me know that 2018 will be a dominant one for Price.
Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” at dannypicard.com. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard.