The Price of Happiness
Note to the Reader: I wrote the first section of this post, ‘The Calm’, at the beginning of February, before the news broke during Spring Training that David Price would venture to see Doctor James Andrews for an opinion on his elbow. My writing has been unaltered from that time. Initially, I had hope to focus the column specifically on Price and the Fenway Faithful, but put the thought on the back burner, hoping the drive to complete it circled back into my mind. When the uncertainty of Price’s elbow rose to the surface, I knew exactly where to go to stitch together this column. ‘Before the Storm’, is written in light of our new discoveries, enjoy.
Dave Dombrowski decided to pay one of the best lefties in baseball half the GDP of Tonga over seven years.
Turning the corner on the first year of this contract, Boston’s fondest memory of David Price is the meager 3.1 innings he lasted in game one of the 2016 ALDS against the Cleveland Indians. Giving up five earned runs on six hits, Price nixed any hope of his postseason struggles dissipating into thin air with the donning of his fourth big league uniform.
All it took was a slow start to 2016 and a bad postseason appearance for many to sour on Price. His past teams, in the cities of Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Toronto, grew to admire the lefty for his vibrant personality and unparalleled consistency.
Boston on the other hand, was met this offseason with the realization that toeing the rubber in the most iconic park in all of baseball was the first time Price failed to have fun pitching. Whether this claim is rooted in the results, or the select group of degenerate fans voicing their racist opinions to the southpaw, is open to interpretation. What I do know from living adjacent to both Boston and New York for the majority of my life, is that admiration of high profile athletes is paradoxically short term and long term; malleable and stubborn.
Commit an error when the game is on the line and you will hear it from the crowd for weeks. Walk-off the Yankees, and they will remember it for months. Become a fixture of the community and the Red Sox will praise you as an idol. Crack under the pressure of a passionately aggressive fan base and you will be forever cast aside.
David Price has the luxury of existing somewhere in the middle of these four quadrants. His playoff struggles are met with a track record of perennial regular season success, and his unfortunate experience with brash individuals at Fenway is met with his reputation as a savant in three other cities.
Price isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and that is something I love about him. Baseball’s marketing of their superstars is in extreme divergence from the more successful player promotion campaigns in the NBA. Young fans are the cream of the crop when it comes to desired targets for ‘customer acquisition’, yet those young fans are attracted to talent and distinct personalities. The traditionalist aura surrounding Major League Baseball is in constant conflict with the exact desire of these young fans. Players like Mike Trout and Nolan Arenado stand out because of their talent. Contrast those two against Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig, who stand out because of their talent and personalities. It is easier to market a one-off phrase like “That’s a clown question bro” and Puig bat flips than it is to lay out WAR statistics for Trout or UZR ratings on Areando. The latter are more appealing to myself and I’m sure many other, but the problem is we’re already fans of the game.
When personality converges with a passionate fan base and aggressive media market like that of Boston, standing out among the crop becomes a lot less tolerable when the performance, regardless of sample size, isn’t there to fall back on. This is unfortunately what David Price has fallen into within the sphere of Yawkey Way.
Before the Storm
So now what?
Overreaction seems natural.
This was the $217 million dollar contract meant to solve any issues Boston had on the hill. It could be considered, in some ways, a counter to Theo Epstein’s outbidding of former Sox GM Ben Cherington on another insanely consistent lefty, Jon Lester. An aggressively calculated counter too. Price will out-earn Lester annually by no less than $10 million through the year 2020. The Red Sox now possess the biggest mystery in baseball heading towards Opening Day. Expecting Price’s 180 inning streak to extend to an eighth year seems even more distant from Boston’s hopes than Price succeeding in October.
Frustration and self proclaimed clairvoyance are equally as common alternatives.
David Price Price has thrown 180 innings or more in each of his last seven seasons. He is the epitome of a workhorse. There is one school of thought that claims an injury like this was inevitable as it was just a matter of time before the innings catch up to him. Those same ‘students’ would have also said Price’s workload mentality was precisely the driver that could have led, and still may, to another 200 inning season. Hindsight bias is extremely hard to avoid.
Medical ailments almost entirely out of the locus of Price’s control, are now just another storyline for fans to knock the player that slipped statistically during his nitpicked 2016.
For 2017, the bar is set extremely high.
Price’s injury concern isn’t going away. A pitching arm is quite possibly the highest compensated body part in all of sports, making any evidence to doubt a clean bill of health, legitimate or not, newsworthy. The unfortunate reality is that even if Price goes on to pitch a full season, with a sub 3.5 ERA, and not one more red flag regarding his ‘unique elbow‘, the 2017 postseason becomes the sole barometer for how successful Price’s 2017 campaign actually was. This exact arm ailment that begged for the completion of this column, and which lead to many unwarranted assumptions, can that quickly become a non-factor.
If our highly unlikely string of events occurs, I’ll be grabbing some popcorn in anticipation of how Price and the Boston faithful attempt to mend or further scrutinize a wounded relationship.
Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thanks to AP3 for the shot of Price.