With 2019 all but officially pissed away by Dave Dombrowski’s insistence that we still live in 2005 and starting pitching is still vastly more important than relief pitching, many people are of the opinion that this tenet has put Dombrowski on the express lane out of town. The starting pitching, while a major strength during last year’s World Series championship, has been unreliable and at times downright infuriating this season. With the top of the rotation locked in place for the near future, let’s have a look at the prospects of the two guys the Red Sox are depending on to anchor the starting five for the next several years.
Am I the first person to make a joke about the fact that Boston’s number one and number two pitchers, that make a combined $60 million per year, are named Chris Sale and David Price? I’m gonna assume that I am. These two are here for the long haul. They each have high-dollar contracts with commitments for several more years and, believe it or not, I’m actually pretty optimistic about the future of both. They each have one thing to learn that can lengthen their careers as elite starting pitchers, and I believe that they are both competitive enough to work out their respective flaws and become reliable top of the rotation guys deep into their thirties.
Sale needs to perfect a new pitch to offset the fact that he cannot throw 98 mph for much longer before his arm snaps in two like Bo Jackson’s bat after a strikeout. Right now he can have a good game against a decent team with his fastball living at 91-93 mph. But that Chris Sale doesn’t have a prayer against an Astros, Yankees, or Twins lineup stacked top to bottom with bad mofos. Sale has made a name and, thanks to a new extension he signed this past year, a ton of money for himself by being an incredible baseball thrower. It’s now time to make himself a Hall of Famer by becoming a great pitcher.
He’s got one of the nastiest sliders in the game, but his change-up doesn’t fool anybody when it’s not playing off an upper-90s fastball. Sale needs to dedicate this winter to improving the sinker that I’ve heard he can throw, even though I’ve never seen him use it in a game. Then he needs to work on incorporating it into his repertoire and perfecting it against big league hitters next season, which will lead to some major sacrifices from him and the team next season. Completely changing your approach mid-career takes time, and he would surely hit a whole bunch of bumps in the road en route to adopting this type of strategy. Year one of Sale 2.0 would see a lot of struggles and poor outings as he tries to get his footing as a completely different kind of pitcher. So he would need to be given a wide berth and a lot of room for error at first. That wouldn’t matter to Red Sox fans, who would have no patience for this whatsoever and probably demand Dana LeVangie’s head on a stick by mid-May. But the Baseball Ops people would have no choice but to get on board. It’s either that or risk the complete flop of this $145 million investment. It is a virtual certainty that Sale will continue to get knocked around by the better teams in the American League if he throws in the low 90s with his current arsenal of pitches. Or, worse yet, he reverts back to throwing in the high 90s every start out of desperation and is out of baseball within a couple years.
The fireballer act needs to go. It’s not sustainable and it will kill his career very early into his new contract if he sticks with it. A Chris Sale throwing precise 92 mph fastballs and that nasty slider can still be an elite pitcher if he’s mixing in a decent sinker/splitter and that weak-ass change-up. We all know he’s got the right bulldog, put-this-team-on-my-back mentality. He now has to figure out the physical tools that will carry him throughout baseball middle-age now that his raw talent is failing him.
Price’s issue is much simpler, yet at the same time more complicated. The man just needs to shut the hell up. The problem is that’s much easier said than done when you’re a guy like David Price. Like all major leaguers he grew up being the envy of all his friends, had muff thrown at him the way Xfinity promotions get thrown at me, had coaches and family members constantly flattering and sucking up to him in hopes of hopping aboard the gravy train, and was feared by all his opponents. He then coasted through the minor leagues and his first several years as a big leaguer while enjoying the same type of success before the playoff choker label grabbed hold of him and he faced some actual adversity for the first time in his life.
Price doesn’t have the meanness of a Roger Clemens, the spotlight greed of a Curt Schilling, the focus of a Greg Maddux, or the unrequited egomania of a Pedro Martinez. He’s a guy with a lot of talent but none of these mental edges to set him apart from the bulk of the pitchers in the league. And the lack of hard times he enjoyed in his youth left him completely unprepared to tune out the criticism he finally started to face in his late twenties.
He inexplicably feels the need to respond to every personal slight he hears, whether on sports radio, in newspapers, or even on social media. Worst of all, he sees himself as the captain of the ship despite the fact that his temperament is the exact opposite of what you want in a locker room leader. Brady, Jeter, Jordan, Gretzky … all of the most successful leaders that have won a bunch of championships have been great at keeping quiet about off-the-field crap and kept the focus on what happens during the game. Hell, Jordan barely said a word after his father was murdered. But this adolescent gets petulant at the suggestion that he stop playing Fortnight to keep his fingers from tingling when pitching in cold weather. And even when he tries to actually step up and do the right thing, he always finds a way to do the complete wrong thing. The Dennis Eckersley fiasco is a column for another day, but it showed just how tone deaf and unrelatable David Price is to the average baseball fan. He can’t tolerate the idea of not being liked, and he feels the need to return each volley made against him. But whenever he opens his mouth, something douche-chill inducing pours out. So he’s best off deleting his social media apps, cancelling the sports package, and adopting Bill Belichick’s press conference vocabulary. If he can limit himself to just pitching, he’s one of the best number two starters in baseball. And that’s what makes him so aggravating. When he keeps quiet and pitches, he’s fantastic. As soon as he says something stupid he opens himself up for criticism. And once those rabbit ears of his pick up on that criticism, he’s toast.
It’s going to be an interesting next couple of years for the Boston Red Sox starting rotation. I could see this core of Sale, Price, Bogaerts, Betts/JD, Devers getting a couple more rings before all is said and done if Dombrowski’s replacement has his stuff together. But with this kind of money invested in the top two starting pitchers, the Red Sox are not sniffing a championship without strong showings from both Chris Sale and David Price. If they can put their old ways behind them and make the necessary adjustments to evolve, they can help end this championship drought Boston has suffered through since February of 2019 and finally bring the Red Sox back to the Promised Land.