OAKLAND — The calamities of Hector Velazquez and Kyle Kendrick return us to the big picture, which has been unchanged since spring training.
The 2017 Red Sox season hinges on David Price.
Depth and roster building are all concerns for the Red Sox. They need better back-end starters, which is the responsibility of the front office. But if you start ignoring the margins and the smaller-value choices, the concept is simple. It always has been.
The Sox lost David Ortiz, they added Chris Sale, and then they lost Price. Those are huge pieces, players worth four or five wins above replacement in a full season.
Forget the Velazquezs of the world. Forget the trade market, where the Sox will have to be active but are restricted by three things: their own prospect pool, the fact they'll probably have multiple needs and the luxury-tax threshold.
There's no one like Price coming from the outside.
“David Price is elite,” Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis said Thursday night. “And you know he’s been that way for a long time. He had a very good year for us last year (17-9, 3.99 ERA). And if we get that guy back, we’re getting a front-line, elite-caliber starter. Those guys are hard to find.
“You insert him in a rotation that has Chris Sale, has Rick Porcello, Eddie Rodriguez coming [along], which he is. It’s a huge difference-maker. And it’s a huge difference-maker for the bullpen as well.”
On Friday, the lefty is slated to make his first minor league rehab start as he comes back from an elbow injury. It’s an outing loaded with symbolism shortly after the birth of his first child. Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman, one of Price’s great friends, tweeted on Friday morning that Price and wife Tiffany welcomed a baby boy, Xavier. Price confirmed the news in a tweet later on Friday. (It's unclear what day Xavier was born.)
With still many hours to go before Friday's game with Triple-A Pawtucket in Buffalo, there was no indication Price’s status for the start had changed. (Of course, it could before first pitch.)
The motivation for Price may skyrocket even further now, the story and reward of his potential return multitudes sweeter.
A year prior to Velazquez’s major league debut Thursday night, Price made his second start of the 2016 season for the Sox. Or more accurately, his second start in the stretch that was representative of how good he can be and, in fact, was last year.
He allowed two runs in 7 1/3 innings vs. the defending world-champion Royals last May 18. From May 12 last year through the end of the regular season, Price had a 3.39 ERA in 188 2/3 innings pitched.
X-factors are generally silly ideas because they assume a lot else goes right. With Price, let’s make that assumption. Let’s presume that Sale stays healthy and so does Dustin Pedroia.
The Sox will still be decent, still have a chance if Price doesn’t make it back healthy, or if he's ineffective. As bad as third base has been, there have been gains elsewhere. Steven Wright is gone for the season, but look at Joe Kelly's progress in the bullpen. Maybe Rafael Devers has two great months to finish the year.
But it’s all kind of minor by comparison when talking about what the Sox can do differently from here. The difference between the middling performance the Sox are showing now and something greater is Price.