This story originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.
David Price bought his teammates and coaches matching bathrobes. He bought scooters for guys on the lower end of the pay scale so they can commute to games together. Particularly during the initial weeks of his time in Toronto, he'd be the first one out of the dugout to celebrate a victory or congratulate a teammate. And he's brought a level of looseness and fun to the diamond that's been instantly apparent.
On Monday night, for example, with his infielders in a pronounced shift to the right side of the diamond for pull-heavy lefty Brian McCann, Price (somewhat shakily) fielded a pop up that went to the third-base side—an unusual play for a pitcher—as there was no one else there to cover it. The ball secured, he looked up and smiled at third baseman Josh Donaldson. "Where were you?" he joked.
If this was all that Price had brought to the club since he was acquired from the Detroit Tigers at the end of July, he'd be a pretty incredible teammate, and likely viewed as an asset to the organization, as long as he was able to provide them with anything resembling serviceable production on the field.
That's a thought the Blue Jays may well want to keep in mind as they worry this winter about what the last years of a free-agent deal to Price might look like, when his production sags and he begins to look like just another guy. Because, of course, here in 2015, he is certainly not just another guy, and what he's brought to the Blue Jays has been far more than just an injection of fun and energy and camaraderie.
No matter how you slice it, his bona fides on the mound this season put him at the absolute top of the American League. He's the AL leader in Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs, and second to Houston's Dallas Keuchel, per Baseball Reference's version. First in ERA, third in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) behind Chris Sale and Chris Archer, and second to Keuchel in innings pitched, but ahead of him in strikeouts (fourth).
Price has been even better since the All-Star break, leading the league in both versions of WAR, ERA, FIP, innings, and strikeouts, despite having now pitched most of it in the offence-heavy environment of the Rogers Centre and AL East—not to mention in the thick of a playoff race.
When it comes to awards season, while it's unfair to penalize a pitcher like Keuchel for having been better in the first half or for his team having slipped in the standings, despite still pitching excellently, the fact that Price has been so good down the stretch, and so instrumental in vaulting the Jays past the Yankees and into the driver's seat in the AL East—with a chance to even catch the Kansas City Royals for the best record in the league—leaves no doubt that he is right now the favourite to win his second Cy Young award.
Having just turned 30 years old, with free agency coming at the end of the season, he's somehow managed to put himself in an even stronger position than before to write his own ticket. To go wherever he wants, and get paid as much as a true ace on the open market will command. And therein, for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans, lies the problem.
It's a problem on multiple evels. For starters, this sort of stuff—budgets and percentages of payroll and revenue streams and currency hedging—is the last thing anybody in Toronto wants to think about right now when the greatest, most intense, exciting and dramatic baseball the city has seen in two decades is unfolding. Yet fans can hardly help themselves but fret.
The end of this beautiful late-summer fling is looming. So, too, then, is the possibility of our hearts being left broken as the one we've fallen in love with races off into the arms of someone else. It's hard to ignore the ever-increasing thump of a heavy heart, even as we try to savour what we do have. John Gibbons isn't immune to it, telling reporters after Price's brilliant turn Monday, "I hope they pay him as much money as he wants."
For fans, the hope is that Price makes it impossible for the team not to. He's certainly come as close as one could imagine so far. But with the teams like the Dodgers or Yankees or Red Sox much more easily able to fit the kind of dollars Price will command into their salary structure, and the struggling Canadian dollar potentially undoing some of the incredible gains the Jays have made as they've surged in popularity in the second half of this year, making it still unclear just how high their payroll can go to accommodate a player like him—especially with the hugely important Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion looking at free agency themselves after the 2016 season—it's not so easy to see the Blue Jays going all out to beat those other teams for his signature.
As simple as it seems—just pay him, as Gibbons says, as much money as he wants—making the pieces fit could be a challenge.
The other hope for Jays fans, then, is the fact that general manager Alex Anthopoulos has shown that he's able work his way through all manner of complicated puzzles. He's also shown, especially this year, that he highly values the kind of intangible, character stuff that Price precisely brings—especially when it comes along with elite talent, as with Josh Donaldson or Russell Martin.
Price could be another one of those guys. They certainly have a better shot at retaining him than they did before he saw how great the team and the city can be. But it still feels like something of a long shot—just not enough of one that we can accept it and move on. Nobody is quite ready for this to end. And with the way Price has pitched and the Jays have played since he got here, can you blame them?