Usually, it’s the fans who hit the panic button first. Or it’s the media who begin speculation that things are so bad for a team it’s time to start trading people.
But in Boston, well, there’s an intensity in Boston that few other baseball franchises have. It’s so intense, it was a player who warned this week that if things don’t improve, the reigning World Series champions might start trading people, including himself.
The player was David Price, and there’s a whole can of worms to be opened from that fact alone. Further, one of the names Price mentioned was Mookie Betts. Price played at Vanderbilt. Betts played at Overton High School in Nashville. So the talk about the Red Sox roster is a matter of considerable interest in the Nashville area. J.D. Martinez, another player Price mentioned, played 19 games for Greeneville in 2009 when he was in the Astros organization. Greeneville is in the rookie-level Appalachian League.
Price told the Boston Globe this week, “If we don’t start playing better, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, maybe myself, we could get traded,” adding, “We’re dead last. It’s going to be talked about.”
Price says a lot of things. He will call out a broadcaster. He will rip baseball’s hierarchy, criticizing it for not having every team scheduled to play on Jackie Robinson Day. Even another newsworthy comment this week should have been the big David Price quote everyone was talking about, when Price said he won’t be going to the White House for recognition of the World Series victory. But it was Price’s comments on potentially dismantling the Red Sox roster that got the most attention, and that says the most about the intensity in Boston.
The Red Sox are 7-13. They are in last place in the American League East, seven games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. Manager Alex Cora has spoken of the need to win a series, and his team took a big step in that direction Friday with a victory over Tampa Bay.
Conventional wisdom says it’s nonsense for a team with the amount of talent Boston has to see such urgency in April. Conventional wisdom would seem to apply here. But when Price, Betts and pitcher Chris Sale are openly talking about how much they and the team are struggling, it does tend to make you think the concern could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Betts was giving fist pumps throughout his home run trot after a blast Friday that helped beat Tampa Bay. Betts, last year’s American League Most Valuable Player, is batting .216. He has four home runs, including the one he hit Friday. Last year he hit .346 with 32 home runs. So things don’t look quite right.
But trade him? On one hand, it’s silly to suggest such a thing. But Price is in position to know how these scenarios go. It has become common in baseball to watch which teams are “sellers” or “buyers” when the July trade deadline arrives. That has become the pivotal point in the season when teams either believe with a few extra moves they can win it all, or realize they can’t make the playoffs and decide it’s time to trade their talent, which means trying to get someone else’s best prospects. That’s why Price commented that the Red Sox are considered to rank 30th with its farm system. Teams like to have prospects on deck, no matter how good the big-league club is.
In 2014, Price was 11-8 with Tampa Bay and was traded to Detroit, where he went 4-4. In 2015, he was 9-4 with Detroit and was traded to Toronto, where he was 9-1 in the Blue Jays’ stretch run. Price has seen how this works, so his observation about trading players is not nonsense.
Then there’s the awkward dance the Red Sox have been doing with Betts anyway. With all the recent player contract extensions being the order of the day, Betts revealed recently that the Red Sox approached him about signing one. He refused, preferring to let the process play out. Betts will become a free agent at the end of the 2020 season. Martinez could become a free agent at the end of this season. Price knows these things. His warning has logic. So while it seems preposterous to suggest that Boston could trade Betts, would Betts’ refusal to sign a contract extension be considered a hint that he’s ready to flee when he’s eligible to be a free agent? If the Red Sox perceive that being Betts’ plan, it begins to make sense that they would trade him.
The more likely scenario is that the Red Sox will play better baseball and that all of this talk will become moot. The discussion then will become more about how soon the Red Sox could catch Tampa Bay and, more likely, how they could overcome, perhaps overwhelm, the New York Yankees.
David Price stirred the pot this week. He will stir the pot again with comments about who knows what. But there is an old line in baseball that applies to all these slump/trade/free agency fears in Boston. Winning settles everything.