BALTIMORE — As David Price integrates back into the active roster with a role in the bullpen, it’s a fitting moment to discuss this recurring thought that some folks have about Price’s return.
The word you hear a lot is “cancer.” You hear, “Why would you want that cancer back on the team?’
Now the majority of this sentiment is a result of the Price/Dennis Eckersley dispute. Even without a scientific poll, you know that majority of Red Sox fans are in Eckersley’s corner about the airplane incident in which Price ambushed the Hall of Famer about his negativity.
Most fans understand that a color analyst’s job is to provide candor to his audience about the team and not to be a cheerleader. Eckersley had the quote of the year when he said on Rob Bradford’s WEEI podcast that “A lot of these players think they want their mom and dad up here calling the game.”
Obviously Price feels a color analyst needs to prop up the team, which Eckersley does as well.
But the missing piece here is that Price’s teammates are in his corner. They support Price. They want Price on the team. They enjoy him as a teammate. Young pitchers flock to him. It doesn’t matter what you, me, or the janitor think of him and what he did to Eckersley, which was bush league and wrong. In his mind, he felt he was protecting his teammates and they, at least the players I’ve talked to, appreciated him doing it.
His teammates, you’ll remember, cheered for Price as he was berating Eckersley, which was also bush league.
So when people say they don’t want that “cancer” back on the team, that’s nowhere near what his teammates think of him. The fact he pitched two scoreless innings Sunday in his first time back since July 22 was a buoying moment for his teammates, even though they lost the game.
One player told me he and his teammates feel the criticism Price has received in his two seasons here is completely unfair.
And the other thing, of course, is you want a pitcher with his talent on the postseason roster, no matter what his role.
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Craig Kimbrel is hard to pin down in the Red Sox clubhouse before or after a game. He turned down an interview for this spot. It’s nothing disrespectful or anything of the kind. He just doesn’t like talking about himself. What he can’t hide from is his incredible 2017 record.
He’s really separated himself from any other closer in baseball. It’s not that Kimbrel doesn’t have moments that make you nervous. In fact he makes himself nervous. He’ll walk a batter or a batter will get literally lucky enough to get a hit off him and then, in a tight situation, Kimbrel will just overpower everyone to get the job done.
Going into Monday’s game in Baltimore, he had 119 strikeouts in 63 innings. Only 14 walks. Think about that. He’s faced 233 batters and struck out 119 of them. He has a minuscule WHIP of 0.63.
The four-year, $42 million deal he signed with the Braves is up after the season. There’s a $13 million 2018 option that the Red Sox will rush to pick up. After that, the team has to think about Kimbrel’s future.
Do the Red Sox jump at it and sign him to an extension? Or do they let him walk, figuring that he’ll be 30 next May and closers who have had that amount of success and wear and tear won’t be as good the next three or four years? Tough call. But as we sit here today, there’s nobody better in the league.
Oh, there are six relievers in baseball who have more saves. Would you take Tampa Bay’s Alex Colome (45 saves out of 51 chances)? Would you go with Colorado’s Greg Holland (40 of 44)? The Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen (38 of 39)? Arizona’s Fernando Rodney (38 of 44)? Toronto’s Roberto Osuna (36 out of 46)? Or Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel (35 of 40)?
All are worthy of consideration. Knebel also has amazing numbers with 115 strikeouts and 36 walks in 68 innings. Jansen is also one of the best, but would you take any of them over Kimbrel the way he’s thrown the ball?
“That guy is in his own planet,” said one rival GM. “That’s the weapon that nobody else really has. The contenders all have good, competent closer, but the Red Sox have the closest to a sure thing as you’ll see.”
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Runner at third, ninth inning, two outs, a two-run lead, and Aaron Judge due up. That’s what Orioles manager Buck Showalter was facing in Sunday’s 6-4 win over the Yankees.
Judge has slaughtered Orioles’ pitching to a tune of 11 home runs, 24 RBIs, and 31 runs in 19 games this season.
The other issue here is that closer Zach Britton was on the mound. Showalter ordered an intentional walk so Britton could pitch to Gary Sanchez. The decision irked Britton and Showalter knew it would. But he did it anyway.
Red Sox manager John Farrell could appreciate the spot.
“Hopefully we’re not in that situation, but I certainly understand the move. Judge has had a lot of success,” Farrell said. “In the moment, [Showalter] felt the better matchup was Sanchez. Tell you what it takes a lot of fortitude to make that move in that moment and you give him a lot of credit for the way it worked out.”
Showalter was the guy who used to walk Barry Bonds with the bases loaded when he managed Arizona, so walking Judge to put the winning run at the plate doesn’t seem like too big of a stretch for him.
Showalter knew Britton would be mad about it and he was. The last time Britton was mad at Showalter, Britton was right. He should have entered the wild-card game against the Blue Jays in extra innings last season. The Blue Jays beat Ubaldo Jimenez.
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Farrell will never get credit from his detractors, but he’s about to win back-to-back AL East divisional titles, which simply doesn’t happen very often in MLB. The last time it happened the Yankees did it in 2011 and 2012 and before that the Yankees had their run from 1998-2006.
Asked about why it’s so hard to do, Farrell said, “Year in and year out there are strong teams and not a lot of roster turnover. You have a lot of info and you go up against each other 19 times. You kind beat each other up.”