Silverman: David Price worries expose deep issue in Red Sox rotation
FORT MYERS — The Red Sox should never have entered the casino, never mind sat down at the high-stakes poker table.
Regardless of what David Price learns about his sore and strained throwing elbow this afternoon in Indianapolis, the Red Sox and Dave Dombrowski have to reckon, with urgency, that their still-good starting rotation lacks one key element: depth.
Their margin of error just melted away as fast as the ice on Jamaica Pond last week. That’s what happens when a ballclub gambles it has all the starting pitching it needs.
When a club banks on run prevention to make up for a loss of run production post-David Ortiz, that investment resembles more of a shell game when one of the key run preventers goes down.
When the Red Sox traded away Clay Buchholz — yes, the inconsistent pitcher who never pitched 200 innings in a season in his life — last December, the trade represented a salary dump worth $13.5 million. A bet backed by the mistaken belief the Red Sox had enough depth behind Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello to weather any storm.
Even though everyone was worried, and for good reason, about the durability and health of the bottom half of the rotation — Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright — the setback with Price could represent the mother of all thunderstorms.
If Price hears he needs surgery, he’s likely gone for this season (and maybe a good chunk of the next if it’s Tommy John surgery). If he hears playing through the injury is a possibility, there’s little reason to believe he will be allowed to pick up a ball again for a significant chunk of the season.
Price pitched 230 innings last year. Replacing those will prove to be as impossible a task as replacing Ortiz’ 38 homers and 127 RBI.
Price can’t be replaced, not with the current crop of unemployed free agent starters. Not unless the Red Sox pull off another Sale-like trade for the likes of Jose Quintana of the White Sox.
So while Buchholz couldn’t be counted on for 200 innings, he was healthy last year and there’s a sour, bitter aftertaste for fans who don’t relate to cost-cutting by a team with deep pockets like the Red Sox.
Still, before knowing the gritty truth about Price’s fate, Dombrowski had no regrets, not even a few, about that deal yesterday.
“The Buchholz situation, no I don’t,” said Dombrowski. “That’s just the timing. You’re not going to just hold on to somebody in case things take place later on.”
Dombrowski did not want to wait until spring training to deal Buchholz because in his experience, it’s tough to dump his kind of salary then. All winter long, Dombrowski maintained that after the six big league starters, the club was doing OK in the upper minors for depth purposes.
He stuck with that same line yesterday.
“The five starters in addition to David remain healthy. I think they’re five as good starters as you’ll find anywhere as a combination,” said Dombrowski. “We’re still looking for some of our other guys here in camp to establish themselves. We’re just getting started with camp, guys like (Brian) Johnson, (Henry) Owens, (Roenis) Elias, (Hector) Velazquez, (Kyle) Kendrick, so that gives us a little bit more depth.”
A little bit, OK.
But not enough.
Dombrowski also reminded us that over the winter, other starters the Red Sox were interested in did not reciprocate that interest based on how stacked the Red Sox appeared to be.
“That’s what we’ve been looking for all winter long, we couldn’t really get guys to sign with us without guaranteed major league spots,” said Dombrowski.
Sure looks as if the Red Sox are going to have to turn to somebody else to replace Price.
All we know for sure is that Buchholz is not that special somebody.