And pitching for the Red Sox on Opening Day 2018 ... David Price.
Oh, it’s not likely, of course, but we’ve been giving it some thought. It’s what the Red Sox should do, because the cost is minimal (or zero) and the gain is potentially significant. We’ve all been around long enough to know that being named the Opening Day starter is a purely ceremonial honor, one that has no real bearing on anything that takes place over the balance of the season. Opening Days have been won and lost, and not a single one of them has had any direct influence on the outcome of a game in October.
Which is why the Red Sox should use it as an opportunity to do something that could help them in the long term more than the short.
Tell you what: let’s back up here for a minute. Just the other day, Red Sox manager Alex Cora was asked if he had decided on Opening Day starter and said no. That was true despite the fact that left-handers Chris Sale and Price (in that order) are scheduled to make their official spring training debuts tomorrow and Saturday, respectively. As things stand, Sale is in line to pitch the first game and Price the second when the Red Sox open the season on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays on March 29, exactly three weeks from today.
And lest there be any doubt, that is exactly what most of us are expecting: Sale first, Price second. As the old adage goes, you start with your best.
But think about it. Wouldn’t Price getting the ball on Opening Day mean so much more? From the start, Price’s 2017 season was a mess. He hurt his elbow in spring training. He hurt his image throughout the year. By the end of the season, Price was almost universally regarded in Boston as a malcontent, someone who regretted signing here in the first place and couldn’t leave fast enough.
Then Price showed up this spring vowing to turn over a new leaf, regardless of whether he was just paying lip service. Given Price’s injury and age – not to mention baseball’s regressing free-agent market – the likelihood is that he and the Red Sox are likely stuck with one another for the next five seasons, like it or not. The point? For everyone involved, let’s just make the best of it.
Which brings us back to Opening Day, manager Alex Cora, and the decision to name an Opening Day starter.
For Cora – and for the Red Sox – there is an opportunity here to begin everything anew. And if Cora is smart – and he is – he can show great regard for Sale, too. As a first-time manager, Cora could call Sale into his office and bare his soul, put the team first, appeal to Sale’s status as a veteran and competitor, all by asking him to make a relatively small sacrifice.
He could say something like this: ”Hey Chris, listen. Price had a tough year all the way around last year. We’re trying to help him put it behind us and I’m thinking about giving him the ball on Opening Day. I just wanted to talk to you about it first to make sure you’re OK with it – and I won’t be annoyed if you’re not. I just think we’re going to need him this year if we want to get where we want to go, and I think this could be a great thing for him. It would be a sign of faith from all of us that we believe in him, that we’re ready to move forward, and that we want him to throw the first pitch. I mean, John [Farrell] is not here anymore, right? I think David and John had their problems. But it’s a new year, new manager, new beginning. And I think we will all be better off for it if David feels like we all get to start over. And I think that having him start on Opening Day could help.”
Sappy? Contrived? Maybe. But it’s also true. And if Sale is the person we think he is – a team guy more interested in winning than in pitching on Opening Day – he won’t merely agree. He’ll embrace the opportunity, and he’ll respect Cora for regarding him as important enough to speak with in the first place.
Will all of that cure the Red Sox’ problems in 2018 – and those, specifically, that belong to Price from 2017? No. But it would be a good way to start. The Red Sox are spending much of this spring handling their starting pitchers with care because the idea is to lean on them heavily in September and October. Every indication is that the 2018 Red Sox are in it for the long haul, so maybe the Sox should take the same approach with the $217 million man that sits atop their salary structure.
Give David Price the ball on Opening Day. It would mean something to him and almost certainly wouldn’t bother Sale. The cost is really zero. And the payoff is potentially huge.
-- By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub