Minutes after the Kansas City Royals eliminated them from the playoffs, Price was asked if he’d be back with the Blue Jays next year.
“I don’t know yet,” the pending free agent replied. Would he consider re-signing with the Blue Jays? “Absolutely.”
Price no longer owes the Blue Jays anything. He has delivered 11 phenomenal regular season starts and four sometimes-rocky post-season appearances. Soon after the World Series he’ll hit free agency at which point he may be the most coveted player available.
“I’ve thrown the ball at times well in the playoffs,” Price said after pitching 6.2 innings of three-run ball with eight strikeouts Friday. “We didn’t win, but what happens in October does not define who I am.”
Even so, delivering a strong performance in a crucial moment will help silence some who questioned his October mettle.
“I hope that quiets some things down for David,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’s having a great career, he’s going to go on to have an even better career.”
First off, Price will return home to Nashville and spend some time with his family. When the time comes, he and agent Bo McKinnis will talk, but Price says those details aren’t on his mind just yet.
“I don’t know when free agency starts,” he said. “It’s not something I’ve thought about. I haven’t thought about it all year long. If I’d thought about it I wouldn’t have thrown the baseball the way I have all year long.”
Free agency opens five days after the World Series, picks up in early November and typically reaches a frenzy at the December winter meetings (they happen to be taking place in Nashville this year). By then Price will likely have finished first or second in AL Cy Young voting after pitching 220.1 innings with 225 strikeouts and leading the American League with a 2.45 ERA.
Max Scherzer, the prize of last year’s free agent market, signed with the Washington Nationals for seven years and $210 million (though some of that money is deferred). Price is this year’s answer to Scherzer, though this year’s free agent class is deeper in pitching, with Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto also hitting the open market.
Teams can’t reach out to prospective free agents yet, but demand for frontline pitching always exists. Former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon now leads a Chicago Cubs team that’s openly searching for starting pitching. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox could also have interest in frontline arms like Price, and some skepticism applies whenever the New York Yankees suggest they’re not in on someone. Unexpected suitors often emerge, too.
That’s not to say Price couldn’t return to the Blue Jays. They need starting pitching as badly as any team, and he says he describes his time in Toronto as “awesome.”
“We played tremendous baseball and had a lot of fun doing it,” Price said. “That’s what you want to be a part of. We played well, we won some very big games with our backs against the wall and showed our character.”
Some variables can’t be accounted for just yet. While the Blue Jays capped contracts at five years under long-time president Paul Beeston, replacement Mark Shapiro could loosen that policy. Considering that the going rate for frontline starters has been seven years and $25-30 million per season, it stands to reason that either the policy disappears or Price does.
Regardless, it’s worth noting that Shapiro’s Indians teams succeeded with modest budgets. Instead of signing Bartolo Colon, CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee long-term, they traded them, obtaining the likes of Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco in the process. Partly that’s a function of Cleveland’s small market size, but at minimum those moves reflect an awareness on the part of Indians leadership that elite pitchers fade, sometimes more quickly than expected.
Even GM Alex Anthopoulos has never spent more than $5 million on a free agent pitcher. Signing Price would represent a meaningful departure.
We know this much. Price would be welcomed back by many teammates, including right-hander Marcus Stroman.
“He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever been around in my life, on and off the field,” said Stroman, who developed a relationship with Price over the course of the last year. “He is the most genuine, humble, down-to-earth person you could ever possibly meet. He loves and cares for every single one of his teammates. I can’t put into words how crucial he is to our clubhouse, how crucial he is to our camaraderie. He’s the glue that gets everyone going. He’s the man behind it all.”
Most importantly, Price has the talent to succeed anywhere with a track record to back it up. And this time, he’ll finally be able to call the shots.