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Lower expectations could help David Price reach new heights this Red Sox season

March 30, 2017 GMT

This could be the year, if it doesn’t go as planned for David Price, that the bigger story starts to change. It no longer will be about Boston or the difficult time Price has had pitching at Fenway Park or the $217???million contract that, for a time, made him the highest-paid player in baseball history.

This is slowly going to become about Price’s legacy. It’ll become about his entire career. Even some of the all-time greats have one season they would like to forget. Price’s mulligan could be 2016, a season he sometimes tries to defend but eventually admits was a disappointment.

But what if 2016 was the beginning of the downfall for Price, who is owed more than $30 million per season through 2022 (when he’ll be 36 years old)? His legacy will be tarnished.

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He won’t be an all-time great. He’ll be one of the very, very good.

There will be seven great seasons to point at, but he won’t be a Hall of Famer. And with that kind of money, the word “bust” too frequently will be used.

John Farrell talks about external expectations with Price. The Red Sox manager believes the pressure comes from the outside. But if Price doesn’t return from an elbow injury that cropped up during spring training and pitch with more effectiveness this year, the accelerating downward direction of his career should supply more pressure than anything anybody can write or say about him.

Price remains hopeful.

“You look at a lot of guys over the history of baseball, they’ve thrown a lot of innings and been able to stay healthy and have really long careers,” Price said. “That’s what I aspire to do. It’s just a little hiccup right here, and I’ll get through it.”

Part of the reason Price is in this mess is his innings totals. On average, three pitchers per season (since 2000) have reached the 1,600 innings mark before their 31st birthday, like Price did in 2016. Most of them have been worse afterward, though there are pitchers like Jon Lester and John Lackey who have been better after 31.

“The more wear and tear and the more pitches you throw and innings that you throw, you put yourself at a higher risk for injury, for sure,” Price said.

This makes things especially difficult for Price, who has yet to win a playoff start in nine tries with Detroit, Toronto and the Red Sox (he has two relief wins). Perhaps recovering from this injury, forcing him to start the year late, will help him in October.

“I’ve never felt bad in September, August or October,” he said. “I’ve always felt strong. I work hard, I take care of myself. I don’t know. Hopefully it works out.”

From the ownership group to the front office to the coaching staff to the clubhouse, the Sox believe Price is going to submit a bounce-back season akin to Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello in 2016. Price said Porcello’s strong year taught him “you can bounce back from tough times.”

During Price’s pro career, times never have been tougher. But expectations never have been lower.

Maybe that’s what he needs.