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cathal kelly

A few minutes after the Toronto Blue Jays' playoff run ended in ugly fashion six weeks ago, David Price presented himself to the press.

The rest of the players were sitting around the Kansas City visitors' clubhouse in their underwear, staring off into the middle distance. Price was showered and dressed. He wanted to do his media duty and get the hell out.

Would he be back?

"I don't know," Price said.

Would he be open to it?


You knew that he was lying. But what else could he say?

Price had performed poorly in the playoffs. The Blue Jays humiliated him by bumping him down to a de facto No. 2. Price stopped referring to the team as "we." Everyone stopped talking about it, even in oblique "We'd love to have him" terms.

All sides had accepted that the relationship was too broken to survive free agency. Price was already gone. But nobody wanted it to end this way.

On Tuesday, shortly before the start of the Winter Meetings meat market, Price agreed to the richest pitching deal in baseball history.

His reported $217-million (all figures U.S.) over seven years includes an opt-out after three seasons. That figure puts Price just ahead of L.A. Dodger Clayton Kershaw's $215-million deal.

That Price has signed elsewhere is not what really hurts (though you may suffer situational vertigo every time you watch Drew Hutchison warming up).

There was no world in which the risk-averse and bottom-line-fixated Blue Jays were going to pay David Price $31-million (U.S.) a year to play into his mid-30s and beyond. Most starting pitchers don't make it that far. Almost none continue performing at an elite level once they pass the age of 35. When their stuff deserts them, it happens quickly.

That's not to say that the Jays shouldn't have signed Price. If they were seriously committed to winning now, they would have. They'd have enjoyed those good early years in the deal, and eaten the rest.

Since the Jays are not committed to winning – not in the dictionary-definition sense of the word – they chose not to bother.

Never confuse what the Jays are about now – they're about winning baseball games if it can be done while still turning a profit. If it can't, they're about taking their chances.

It's not a difference in philosophy, because only winning is a philosophy. Winning while making money is a business plan.

No, what really hurts is who gave Price the money.

If he'd gone to any of the early favourites to secure him – Chicago, L.A., San Francisco – that would've been bearable. The National League is a long way away. He can't hurt us there. Much.

Instead, Price chose Boston. Which is also a ways away, but not nearly far enough.

After winning the World Series in 2013, the Red Sox sat out the last couple of seasons. They made a few unwise moves. The guys they had got hurt. Their pitching went to hell. Everything that could go wrong did.

They were so sad and mediocre that we didn't spend nearly enough time rubbing it in while we could.

Well, there's a chance missed that we may all regret. Adding Price and elite closer Craig Kimbrel solves a great many of Boston's pitching problems. They are all in for 2016 and at least a couple of years beyond that. They are the new class of the American League East.

A month ago, the Jays had a chance to be similarly ambitious, building on a powerful roster that may remain intact for just one more season.

This was the moment to be brave in the same way unwanted general manager Alex Anthopoulos had been brave at the trade deadline. This was going to tell us everything we needed to know about the regime that replaced him.

Instead of taking a chance and capitalizing on a position of strength, the Jays chose the "Let's hope J.A. Happ can still be resoundingly average" route.

This is the ownership we remember from such months as June and all the ones before June going back a lot of years. It's not a fond memory. This is the let's-leave-a-few-stones-unturned-because-who's-going-to-pay-for-all-those-turned-over-stones Jays franchise. The accountants are back in charge.

If they were never going to get Price, where were the Jays on Jordan Zimmermann, just signed by Detroit for $110-million over five years? Where are they on Johnny Cueto, or former Anthopoulos lust object Jeff Samardzija?

As far as anyone can tell, they're nowhere. They're sitting on J.A. Happ, pretending to look satisfied.

After signing Zimmermann, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch said, "I don't care about spending money. They get the players and I spend, and I don't worry about it because they have good judgment. We've had good teams over the years, and it's a lot of fun for me."

You'll notice that he didn't say anything about improvements to the stadium WiFi.

The next time anyone connected to the Jays ownership wants to talk about a commitment to winning, they should remember what it sounds like. It sounds like Mike Ilitch.

You can see where Toronto is going with this. They still have a world-beating offence. The pitching is mediocre at best, but it's not terrible. The bullpen – the same one that killed them against Kansas City – is largely intact. They're no worse than they were in July of last year.

They're also no better. Price was the difference. His nine wins in 11 starts after arriving via trade turned the Jays from good to great. He did more than pitch well. He changed the tone. He made people – both in and outside the clubhouse – believe. Now that he's gone, that's gone with him.

Instead of leading, the Jays were already starting to look up the standings again, and now they're looking up at Boston. One can only imagine how motivated Price is to show up the team that showed him up. On a bunch of levels, this is a worst-case scenario.

But it is a chance to return to normalcy. You remember that feeling you had in September? That queasy, unfamiliar tingle? An all-over nervous tension that came on in waves in the evening?

In all likelihood, you won't be feeling it again any time soon.

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