With it comes to pitchers, among the scariest phrases a team can hear, in reverse order of magnitude, are “elbow soreness,” “MRI exam,” “second opinion” and “Doctor Andrews.” And on Thursday morning, those four phrases were being used, in the same breath, regarding David Price of the Boston Red Sox.
It is possible this development — with Price being shut down because of a sore elbow and sent to see noted orthopedist James Andrews — will resolve itself in some way other than Price undergoing season-ending elbow ligament-replacement (or “Tommy John”) surgery. But as anyone who has followed the game closely knows, more often than not that is the outcome.
“Yes, we are concerned,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell told reporters in Fort Myers, Fla.
According to Farrell, Price experienced soreness — of “greater intensity” than past bouts of forearm tenderness — following his 38-pitch outing in a simulated game on Tuesday, and subsequently underwent an MRI exam. For now, the team is saying only that Price will see Andrews and miss his scheduled Grapefruit League debut on Sunday.
The implications here, obviously, are huge. With Price heading their rotation, along with Rick Porcello and newly acquired Chris Sale, the Red Sox possess arguably the best front-end in baseball and can be considered, along with the Cleveland Indians, one of the American League’s two best teams.
Should Price be out for any extended period of time, the Red Sox would still own a formidable rotation, with Sale and Porcello backed by Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez. But Wright, Pomeranz and Rodriguez have all dealt with recent health issues of their own, and beyond them, the Red Sox’s rotation depth is perilously thin. Just Tuesday, they signed right-hander Hector Velazquez out of the Mexican League, presumably to bolster their depth at Class AAA.
Price, 31, is due to earn $30 million this season, in Year 2 of the seven-year, $217 million contract he signed before the 2016 season. Last year, in Year 1, he went 17-9 with a league-high 230 innings pitched, but posted his highest ERA (3.99) and WHIP (1.20) since his 2009 rookie season.
Signing any pitcher to such a massive deal comes with inherent risks, but those risks seemed relatively minimal in Price’s case: In his eight full seasons in the big leagues, he has made only one stay on the disabled list, for a strained triceps in 2013, and he has averaged 32 starts per season since 2010.
The Red Sox will be hoping, of course, for good news on Price — that all he requires is a little rest and extra care, and that he might still be ready by Opening Day. But recent history tells us something different: that these episodes tend to have a much worse outcome, and that the Red Sox may want to begin preparing for life without David Price.