This is a tale of two players.
Player A is a brilliant southpaw, a three-time All-Star and recent AL Cy Young winner. He’s the type of workhorse ace that every team would want, and who is capable is being the difference between a playoff team and one watching the postseason from the sidelines.
Then there’s player B, a skilled hurler who, despite his best efforts and intentions, ultimately falls short of lofty expectations in the biggest of stages — especially when his team needs him most. There are certainly much that can be said about the disparity between the two players, but the differences between the two are best illustrated by numbers:
Player A: 3.19/1.16 ERA/WHIP, 0.8 HR/9, 71-39 W-L, 8.1 K/9, 7.8 H/9
Player B: 5.81/1.37 ERA/WHIP, 1.7 HR/9, 0-4 W-L, 7.5 K/9, 11.3 H/9
The differences don’t stop there. See, Player A is approaching potential free agency after a couple of seasons, and he’s looking to get paid like one of the best pitchers in the game — meaning someone is going to have to write a number somewhere in the requisite nine-figure range to acquire the player’s services for at least a good half of a decade.
Player B? Well, it just so happens that he’s looking for the same thing.
There problem here, as you already know, is that both players are actually the same man by the name of David Price, who is widely presumed to be in his final days with the Tampa Bay Rays, the only team he has known in his MLB career thus far and a team that simply cannot afford to hand out extensions like the ones that Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander recently received.
That said, teams who can afford those kinds of extensions tend to be looking for guys who can carry them through the postseason, and that’s something that Price is still looking for, despite his all-world talent.
If you were wondering, the Player B side of the lefty are his small sample numbers from the ALDS, where he’s made all four of his postseason starts. Though the overall numbers are skewed by the latest off day he experienced in Fenway, the fact is that he’s never pitched up to his potential in the postseason: as a dominant ace capable of changing the outcome of the game nearly on his own.
The fact that Price has been mediocre on the biggest stage, when sample sizes conveniently give way to results in a brute force kind of way, shouldn’t be understated — especially when it comes to negotiating dollars and cents upwards to $200 million.
That’s $200 million that he’s unlikely to get if he were to hit free agency tomorrow, by the way.
Sure, teams aren’t necessarily looking at a 26.1-inning sample size and thinking that it trumps the 973 innings that make up the rest of Price’s career, but big-game reputations are a weird thing, and being the ace who could never get it done in the postseason is a ghost that’s not so easily exorcised … mostly because of the lack of opportunity.
Does this change Price’s potential future or lack of one with the Rays? Has he made his last start with the team — and not just in the playoffs?
The latter seems far-fetched, if only because his trade value isn’t exactly at his highest, and with at least two more seasons of control with all the variables that can happen, the Rays can afford to wait.
That said, Price’s inability to carry the team in the playoffs shouldn’t really change his future outlook either. Even if his value has taken a hit, this is still a pitcher who can command a nine-figure salary — and that’s simply a number Tampa Bay can’t afford.
There’s the potential scenario of the two negotiating a deal that will buy out his final years of arbitration at an inflated price so the team can have a couple of his free agency years, but unless the lefty is suddenly feeling very generous, he seems to be destined for an eventual stop in the free agent market — playoff struggles or not.