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MLB free agent predictions: Where will David Price sign?

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The best left-handed pitcher on the market is probably going to crack $200 million. Which teams can afford him? Which teams should spend on him?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is on drugs, and the human body wasn't designed to throw baseballs. That's a nasty cocktail. The combination means that pitchers are forever going to confound, frustrate and mystify. They're promising until they're a pile of arm shards. They're disappointing until something clicks in the middle of a dream. They go to sleep as jake arrieta, and then they wake up JAKE ARRIETA. Pitchers are a weird bunch.

And then there's David Price. He was supposed to be the best available player in the 2007 MLB Draft, so he was picked first overall. He turned out to be the best available player in the 2007 MLB Draft. He was a top prospect with the potential to be an All-Star. He became an All-Star with the potential to be a Cy Young winner. Then he became a Cy Young winner with the potential to be a multi-multi-millionaire. Other than a bad month or two, he's done just about everything that was expected of him.

He just looks like a pitcher, man. Look at him. It's almost boring how little he's struggled. Where's the drama that pitchers are supposed to bring with them? Where's the suspense? Every story needs conflict to keep the audience interested.

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Price is almost certainly one of the best pitchers alive. Here's a list of the pitchers who have been as successful before turning 30. There are hard-luck cases, and slow declines, sure. But there are also perennial All-Stars and Hall of Famers. The dream of the latter will obscure the reality of the former, and he'll make something close to $200 million with this contract. He might make closer to $300 million.

Read that first paragraph again, though, and remind yourself that he's still a pitcher. He's still a pitcher. The same winches and pulleys are in his shoulder. He's probably going to disappoint someone so very much by the end of the deal.

Except there's also the beginning of the deal. And it would sure fit the David Price template if he were to pitch his way straight into the Hall of Fame with five or six more excellent seasons. He hasn't fallen short of expectations yet, so you might as well start raising the expectations, I guess.

Who should spend the money? Who will?

The ideal

Last year's Red Sox were supposed to be the favorites in the AL East, remember. They had Hanley Ramirez to play left, and pretty much anyone can adapt to left. Pablo Sandoval would have been productive if he brought his AT&T numbers with him, except he was moving to a much better park for hitters. And the pitching staff was revamped with medium-risk, medium-reward pitchers.

They even made a joke of the seemingly amorphous blob of reliability between their No. 1 and No. 5:

Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly were all wearing those shirts at the start of spring training. Ha, ha, who's the ace? You the ace? I'm the ace. No, you're the ace. Ha, ha.

And while the confidence was admirable, boy, those shirts didn't age well. Buchholz was effective when healthy, but the other four recent additions were middling at best. Not a one after Buchholz had an adjusted ERA better than the league average. Combined with the disappointing free agent additions, it all led to a last-place team. Everyone in Boston asked "who's the ace?" before the season. They were right to do so. They are right to do it again.

It's not like the Red Sox crumbled and blew away in a breeze by the end of the season, either. They were getting stronger. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts established themselves as premium players at a young age. Eduardo Rodriguez impressed and took the sting out of the he's-the-ace jokes by the end. The farm system is still loaded. And they have money.

Peter Gammons thinks the Red Sox are gonna go nutty for Price. Makes sense, considering he's AL East-tested. He would be a fine pitcher for Dave Dombrowski to hoist above his head, screaming to the masses, "Here's your ace! Here's your ace!" It makes too much sense.

The favorites

The problem is that Price makes sense for everybody. There are at least five teams with the money and desire to get an ace of aces: The Red Sox, Giants, Cubs, Cardinals and Dodgers all seem capable and willing when it comes to a $150 million contract or larger. Oh, and the Yankees. Never forget the Yankees. Oh, and the mystery team, scuttling from shadow to shadow, lurking, waiting.

The Cubs are a cliché at this point because of Joe Maddon and the appeal of being the hero that breaks the century-long curse. For me, though, they're the clear favorite because of this:

Cubs guaranteed contracts, 2016-2020 (via Baseball-Reference)

2016: $81.7 million
2017: $61.5 million
2018: $50 million
2019: $55 million
2020: $27.7 million

Most of those last three years are a combination of Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. They'll have big arbitration awards to hand out and long-term extensions to sign. Jake Arrieta is a free agent after 2017. But the Cubs can probably handle pushing their payroll to $200 million, especially after the glow of a postseason run. They have their core absolutely locked in, and it appears as if their plan was to spend on pitching when the young hitters came along.

The young hitters came along and started pummelling things. Now it looks like the plan is to spend on pitching. If not Price (or Greinke, or Cueto), then whom? The Cubs probably wouldn't be as keen as the Red Sox to deal away from their prospect stash for an ace, not when the plan was to develop the hitters and buy the pitchers the whole time.

It would be funny if Price were reading all of the rumors and thinking quietly about how much Joe Maddon bugs the crap out of him. Even though he's an excellent manager, I still picture Maddon as a kind of Burning Man's Michael Scott, and I can't imagine that everyone digs that. Maybe the Price/Maddon reunion chatter is overblown.

Here's guessing that Price is more than OK with the manager who nurtured him in the early years, though. If he's looking for comfort and a chance to win at the same time, the Cubs make a compelling case. Probably the best case.

Prediction

Oh, this is probably going to be the mystery team. Rangers, 8 years, $240 million! Marlins, 10 years, $270 million! Someone will get a hold of the powdered offseason at the Winter Meetings and party on the balcony all week. When they wake up in a utility closet on Friday morning, they'll have David Price and a deathly hangover. Pray for the mystery team.

For now, though, I'll keep it boring and pick the team that makes the most sense, both financially and logistically.

Prediction: Cubs, seven years, $220 million

Price will get a bump from the Scherzer deal (without the deferred money), and the competition will be bloody. Good for him. All he'll have to do to earn the money is continue to be boring in the best possible way.

Previous free agent predictions:

Jeff Samardzija
Zack Greinke

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