DETROIT – Anybody seen how Crane Kenney’s coming along with that wheelbarrow full of cash for Theo Epstein?
The Cubs’ oft-maligned business president – who told Bloomberg Business last winter his job was to “fill a wheelbarrow with money, take it to Theo’s office, and dump it” – better start shoveling even faster.
Because the way David Price sounded Wednesday in Detroit, Epstein’s front office is going to need that thing ready for dump by November.
Price, the Detroit Tigers’ Cy Young-winning left-hander, is the impact pitcher the Cubs have most coveted almost from the day Epstein took over, the top pitcher in next winter’s free agent class, and the caliber of pitcher that can’t be found anywhere near the Cubs’ farm system.
The Cubs have his old Tampa Bay manager at the helm, have his old Vanderbilt pitching on the player development staff, and with every minute Price talked during a lengthy conversation before Wednesday’s game, the more he sounded like he sees a fit, too.
“They’re very young,” said Price, who said he sees the Cubs going on an extended run of winning. “I feel like it’s very similar to when I first came up with Tampa, just a bunch of young guys going out there and having fun. That’s what it’s all about. Obviously, winning is what it’s about. But you’ve got to be able to have fun.
“I don’t want to win and not have fun. I wouldn’t rather lose than have fun, but it’s pretty close.”
Price, 29, pitched in a World Series for Cubs manager Joe Maddon as a rookie with the Rays in 2008 and won a Cy Young with Maddon in 2012.
He embraced the theme-dress-up days, animals in the clubhouse and “be yourself” principle Maddon stressed with players. He’s aware of the hitters coming through the Cubs’ system. He still has a close relationship with Cubs pitching coordinator Derek Johnson, the old Vandy pitching coach.
“He’s a big reason I am who I am today,” Price said of Johnson.
Price also makes $19.75 million this season is could be poised to challenge former teammate Max Scherzer’s record-setting $210 million, seven-year deal for a free agent pitcher.
The Cubs were able to sign Jon Lester this past winter to that $155 million deal, despite a $100 million budget that didn’t change from 2014, because they had $20 million put aside from ’14 and are banking on revenue/payroll growth on the back end.
Kenney’s on the clock to make this one work, if the Cubs plan to build on the progress they appear to be making this year.
Both Maddon and Price talk about their strong relationship; they call each other “unique” and both relish a loose team vibe.
“I’m pretty fun,” Maddon said. “But he’s funner.”
He’s also committed enough to his boys that he drove to Champaign after the Tigers’ game against the White Sox in Chicago on Sunday to watch Vanderbilt beat Illinois on Monday to advance to the College World Series.
“He’s probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around,” said Maddon, who wouldn’t speculate on how his relationship with Price might play in any free agent decision.
Price called Maddon “perfect for our team in Tampa. And it’s kind of the same way in Chicago right now. We were an extremely young team with a ton of talent. And he does a really good job of making sure everybody in the clubhouse is comfortable and loose and relaxed. If you have young guys, that’s really what you need.”
The Tigers made a run at extending Price, but by the time the season opened, they reportedly were still far apart. Price said he’s open to an extension but prepared for free agency.
And after playing for multiple teams he values a comfort zone and, it seems, a certain degree of known quantity.
Beyond the money, chance to win and “fun” he seeks, he said a key factor is, “just being able to win and knowing that you can be yourself.
“I don’t see myself signing somewhere where I would have to change who I am and what I do on the field every day and just the way that I am in the clubhouse and in the dugout,” he said. “I want to be myself.”
And if he were to be able to take a shot at making history?
“There’s probably not another city that’s dying for a World Series more than Chicago; everybody would probably agree with me on that,” he said. “That’s special. It’s absolutely special. But it would be very special if we won here as well. …
“But that would be pretty crazy.”
Maybe a wheelbarrow full of crazy.