Former Tampa Bay Rays Cy Young award winner David Price will make his first start at Tropicana Field this afternoon as a member of the Detroit Tigers. Dealt to Detroit right before last month’s trade deadline, there are sure to be mixed emotions for Rays fans as Price suits up for the first time as a visiting player. Before we decide to boo or cheer Price in his new venture, let’s first examine the unique circumstances which caused this trade to Detroit in the first place.
In Major League Baseball, the salary structure is completely flawed and makes life extremely difficult for small-market teams to retain star players. When compared to other major sports like football or basketball, baseball’s situation is laughable. For example, Kevin Love of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves could earn a max contract north of $100 million if he desired to stay in Minnesota. The issue with Love is that he simply does not want to play for a losing team anymore, and he has informed the club that he does not intend to re-sign with Minnesota after this season.
In direct contrast to the Tampa Bay Rays, the small-market Timberwolves do not have to fend off large-market teams from raiding their roster of top-tier talent. Like the Rays, the Timberwolves also struggle to draw fans into the arena as they finished 27th in NBA home attendance in 2013-14. However, the NBA’s salary cap structure allocates the same amount of money for Minnesota to re-sign its players as it does with the big-market Chicago Bulls, who finished first in attendance. In other words, if Kevin Love’s only objective was to get paid the highest dollar amount, Minnesota could accommodate him regardless of how poor their attendance or net income was.
Because of baseball’s economic structure with uncapped spending, Tampa Bay is at a distinct disadvantage when competing in free agency to re-sign Price. Therefore, the Rays were forced to trade off its best pitcher in exchange for lesser players (Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin) who are under contract for longer periods of time than Price; Smyly is under contract until 2019, while Franklin is under contract until 2020. Meanwhile, the big-market Boston Red Sox certainly got more bang for their buck when they traded their lefty-ace Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
While Cespedes will become a free agent in 2016, Boston’s deep pockets will make it easy to retain his services. The Red Sox own the fourth highest payroll in all of baseball ($163 million), compared to the Rays who have the 3rd lowest payroll in all of baseball ($77 million). Had the Rays acquired Cespedes, they would have faced a similar predicament to the one they just experienced with David Price. There’s no way the Rays could have kept a top-tier player like Cespedes beyond his current contract.
David Price never wanted to leave Tampa Bay in the first place. Price was a fixture in the Tampa Bay community and had a good standing relationship with the organization. Price did however, want to get paid what he is worth on the open market, and that wasn’t possible in Tampa Bay. In my opinion, the real villain in this equation is MLB Commissioner Bud Selig because he is the one responsible for putting this flawed economic system in place. This faulty system clearly puts our Rays between a rock and a hard place nearly every trading deadline.