2018 is shaping up to be the most important year of David Price’s career. The southpaw is coming off a season in which he spent the majority of the year on the DL due to issues with his pitching elbow. That –combined with his dismal history of postseason starts– forced him to the pen upon his return for the stretch run leading up to the playoffs.

Price is also eligible to opt out of his contract at the end of this coming season. While it normally would seem absurd for for a 32 year old pitcher coming off injury to even consider walking away from $127 million, especially considering all the star talent that would join him in next years free agent class, Price’s first two years in Boston have been difficult, to say the least. Between battling with fans on Twitter, to the infamous confrontation with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, getting out of Boston as quickly as possible could be exactly what Price would like to do.

If the 10 year veteran is going to entertain the idea of using his opt out to join what would be his fifth franchise, he is going to need to show his elbow is healthy while putting together a very good season.

While it wasn’t exactly a big sample size, Price was absolutely dominant for the Red Sox out of the bullpen last season. This doesn’t mean his transition back to the rotation will go seamlessly, however it certainly can allow Sox fans to be optimistic. Combined with Dave Dombrowski reporting recently that Price has not altered his offseason workout regime, it stands to reason that Price will be healthy starting the season.

So what can we expect from him with regards to his performance?

A common misconception is that Price performed poorly in his first season in Boston. While his 3.99 ERA wasn’t what was expected of him, he led Major League Baseball in games started and innings pitched, while averaging just under a strike out per inning (228 K’s to 230 IPs). A lot of fans focused on Price’s enormous salary and yet another awful start in the playoffs, but didn’t focus on how solid his full season really was.

Last year, he dropped his ERA to 3.38, which would have been good enough for 9th in the American League had he had enough innings to qualify, and he averaged more than a strike out per inning. David also pitched really well in the ALDS, as he didn’t surrender a run in 6 2/3 innings.

Assuming his elbow holds up, there are three points that can lend credence to the notion that Price could put together a productive 2018:

  • With Chris Sale leading the rotation Price will no longer need to be the ace of the staff, which should ease the pressure somewhat.
  • MLB is starting the season earlier this year to allow for more off days throughout the season which will help alleviate concerns about his workload.
  • And finally, if Price does wish to exercise the opt out to enter free agency again, he knows he will need to put together a hell of a campaign in order to get a contract approaching what he would be walking away from.

In my opinion the ideal situation for Price, the Red Sox and its fans, are for Price to stay healthy all season, where he can lead the Sox on a deep playoff run, and then opt out of his contract. This would allow the Vanderbilt grad to pitch somewhere he feels more comfortable, while in turn freeing up 30 million bucks of payroll, so Boston doesn’t spend next offseason window shopping.

My prediction for Price?

15 wins, a 3.50 ERA, and a 1.18 WHIP to go along with 215 innings pitched. 200 punch outs shouldn’t be out of the question either, which he’s done five times in his career. Would those numbers be enough to warrant opting out of a 4/$127M contract? Unlikely, but time will tell.

Regardless, 2018 is going to go a long way in determining not only David Price’s future, but also how the Red Sox rotation will look in 2019 and beyond.