FORT MYERS, Fla. — Above all else, David Price needs to stay healthy and pitch well this season. But his image could use a good cleansing, too.
And so, as he began his third spring training with the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday, Price volunteered to meet the media at the green picnic table outside the clubhouse — the same spot where pitchers Josh Beckett and Jon Lester broke the ice about the infamous beer-and-chicken fiasco of 2011 — and spent 18 minutes saying he behaved badly last season and insisting he isn’t counting the days until he can opt out of his contract next winter.
“I could’ve handled it better last year, absolutely. But I didn’t, and I’ve moved on,” Price said. “I feel like I’ve always been one to lead with my actions, and I didn’t do that very well last year. I know that and understand that, and I look forward to getting back and being that faucet and not being a drain.”
“I could’ve handled it better last year, absolutely. But I didn’t, and I’ve moved on. I feel like I’ve always been one to lead with my actions, and I didn’t do that very well last year. I know that and understand that, and I look forward to getting back and being that faucet and not being a drain.”
Nifty metaphor aside, it was the first step toward possible redemption for Price, who at times has appeared miserable since signing a seven-year, $217 million contract before the 2016 season.
Price pitched better than he got credit for, though still not up to his All-Star standards, in 2016 before injuring his left elbow in spring training last year. Things only got worse when Price screamed at a reporter in a clubhouse hallway at Yankee Stadium in June. He also confronted Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley on a team charter flight in late July over an innocuous comment on a television broadcast.
In between, Price spent his time on the disabled list last summer telling many of his younger teammates that the media was out to get them. He boycotted local reporters on days when he didn’t pitch and was loath to acknowledge the fans for giving him a standing ovation after a dominant relief performance in Game 3 of the division series against the Houston Astros.
But the pitcher said in his spring training appearance that he’s ready to move forward. In addition to saying his elbow is completely healthy — “I haven’t had one instance this offseason, whether it was playing catch or doing anything on the field, where I was like, ‘That doesn’t feel right,'” he said — Price maintains that his mind is clear of all of last season’s negativity.
After having a strained relationship with former manager John Farrell, Price is off to a good start with first-year skipper Alex Cora, bonding over their common experiences as new fathers. If Eckersley wants to clear the air, Price said he’s willing to engage. He even said he’s up for chatting with reporters again, albeit on his terms.
“We can talk,” Price said. “But you’re not going to come over and overload me with negativity. It’s not going to happen. That’s not going to happen.”
And Price knows it’s less likely to be the case if he returns to being one of the best pitchers in baseball.
But in two seasons with the Sox, Price has a 3.84 ERA. After leading the league with 230 innings in 2016, he was limited to only 74 ⅔ last season.
“I feel like it’s pretty straightforward. You know what you’re going to get [in Boston]. If you go out there and pitch well and play well, you’re going to have support,” Price said. “You can always make things better by pitching better. That’s what I’ve got to do. Go out there and throw the ball the way I threw the ball before I got to Boston.”
Doing so also represents the only way Price can reasonably exercise his opt-out.
Price, 32, will have four years and $127 million left on his contract. If this winter’s historically sluggish market is any indication, it will be difficult to find a better deal if he re-enters free agency, especially if he isn’t coming off a good season. Yu Darvish, two years younger than Price will be next winter, just signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Chicago Cubs, while 31-year-old right-hander Jake Arrieta is among the more than 100 free agents who remain unsigned.
Despite saying he has no doubt he will be back with the Red Sox next season, Price also noted he has not yet discussed the opt-out situation with his family or agent Bo McKinnis.
Regardless, Price seems to realize it isn’t a bad idea to extend an olive branch to Red Sox fans and ask local media members if they’ll be so kind as to grant him a do-over.
“Everything I’ve been through in the past two years, it’s been a struggle, absolutely,” Price said. “But I feel like I’ve gotten better from it. I’ve learned from it. I look forward to continuing to learn.”