When It Comes To David Price The Risks Outweigh The Rewards
The Rays are faced with a trying decision on whether or not to trade their ace lefty David Price or hold on to him and “go all in” for 2014. He is projected to earn $13.1M dollars (Link) in 2014 and is owed an additional $4M (Link) in deferred salary (payment due Oct 1st, 2014) from 2013 but it’s not the amount of money that makes David Price unaffordable.
Heading into the offseason he seemed resigned to the fact that he’d be traded telling Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times: “If you go with what’s been done in the past, I guess you’re going to have to think you’re going to get traded.” Price continued, “That’s kind of the way it’s happened with this organization when pitchers kind of get to this period in their career. We’ve seen it happen a couple of times already. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know what’s happened in the past.”
At his end of the season press conference Joe Maddon mixed his personal feelings towards what it would mean to lose Price but mixed in the business perspective saying, “it’s never an inviting thought to think that David’s not going to be with you, but we’re faced with a lot of this stuff on an annual basis. It’s part of who we are here – we understand that. I’m hoping it would turn out differently and he’d be able to play here but I don’t know how that’s going to play out. Players like David Price you always want to have on your side.”
With pitchers and catcher due to report to Port Charlotte in a little over a month the tone has shifted to maybe the Rays will bring him back. After all, they’ve already brought back most of the team that finished the 2013 season winning 92 games and a wild card game before falling to the eventual World Series Champion Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series.
After re-signing Jose Molina, James Loney, David DeJesus and adding Ryan Hanigan and Heath Bell via trade the Rays payroll is projected to break the franchise record of $72M in 2010. A payroll that Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations said was an “unaffordable” figure for the franchise.
Concerning the payroll Friedman added, “I think its something that Stu [Sternberg] has been very steadfast and doing everything he can in putting our best foot forward to win as many games as we possibly can as we continue to build the foundation and the fan base in this area.” He went on to say that it’s not a sustainable number in terms of where the club was in terms of revenue but that “we have a really good chance to be great next year and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey really seemed to make the case that the Rays would bypass trading David Price. In his comments to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times he said, “I wouldn’t drop over dead if he ended up traded, but I’d be surprised, We’re going to have a damn good team, and he’s a leader of the pitching staff. Even if you can cash that in for a couple of prospects, I would be a little bit surprised. We’ve got basically every position player back with the addition of catcher (Ryan Hanigan), and keep that pitching staff for the most part in tact with everybody back but (Fernando Rodney)…”
Hickey also tried to dispel the notion that the Rays had to follow the same path as they had taken by trading pitchers away for prospects when more than a year away from free agency. “It was a little easier to deal (RHP James Shields) when you knew you had Price, not that the other guys aren’t that caliber of pitcher, but David is pretty special, James is pretty special. (Trading Price) would be a big blow. Shields was a big blow. This would be a really tough body blow right there.”
Weeks away from spring training and hardly even a rumor of a Price market, Andrew Friedman’s comments about having a chance to be really good next year, and Jim Hickey saying that Price is the leader of the pitching staff adding that he’d be surprised if the organization traded him for a couple of prospects have stoked the belief that Price will be the Rays opening day pitcher.
Major League Trade Rumors polled its readers asking them to vote on when they believed David Price would be traded. Of the 19,787 respondents a total of 37.84% (7,487) said between opening day and the trade deadline, 31.69% (6,271) chose after the 2014 season (if at all), 21.9% (4,333) chose before spring training, and 8.57% (1,696) chose between spring training and opening day.
From a more local source, Draysbay.com repeated the poll for their readers and the results were slightly different. There were 179 votes in total and 56% (100 votes) chose after the 2014 season (if at all), 29% (52 votes) chose before opening day, 12% (22 votes) chose between opening day and the trade deadline, and 3% (5 votes) chose between spring training and opening day.
The Tea Leaves Say He Won’t Be Traded
There are other arguments other than reading into the front office sending out a smoke signal that they are “going for it” in 2014 that fans believe indicate that the Rays will not trade him.
They’ve Held On To Players In The Past….
Some will point out that in years past they have held onto players such as Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton into their final years of their contracts – but each had a different end game and neither risk/reward equation compares to that of Price.
With Crawford the Rays carried the risk of injury or poor performance heading into the 2010 season but had a high likelihood of garnering a pair of first round draft picks if he had even an average year. If he had the injury year or extremely poor performance the Rays possibly could have had leverage to bring him back on a 1-year pillow contract. The final scorecard suggests their wasn’t a lot of risk in carrying him that final season.
For those interested, the Rays received the Red Sox first round pick when they signed Crawford and used it to select top pitching prospect Taylor Guerrieri. The supplemental pick was used on outfielder Tyler Goeddel.
With B.J. Upton the Rays carried the risk of poor performance eliminating the possibility of extending a qualifying offer and in turn would not receive a supplemental draft pick in exchange. However, his 2012 salary was also very manageable at $7M dollars and if he performed well and the team did not the organization still held a valuable trade chip. Again the risk of losing compensation either by trade or draft compensation is on another level than that of David Price.
Upton did perform well enough in 2013 for the Rays to feel comfortable in extending him a qualifying offer. With the supplemental draft pick the Rays drafted pitcher Ryan Stanek from the University of Arkansas.
If he’s so valuable, why haven’t the Rays traded him yet?
Masahiro Tanaka. Simply put the star Japanese pitcher whose signing doesn’t count against its international spending pool, doesn’t cost the team signing him a draft pick, and doesn’t cost a team its top prospects is still unsigned. A true free agent that will only cost money.
Tanaka’s availability on the free agent market has not only brought to a screeching halt the David Price trade talks but other pitchers on the open market are having to wait out (or choosing to wait) out the negotiations to get a true sense of their value. Once he whittles his market down and the talks mature with the final suitors other teams may jump into the remaining free agent class which includes Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo, and A.J. Burnett but the next big commodity will be David Price.
For instance, if the Seattle Mariners fail to land Tanaka they will most likely look to add a pitcher that they can pair with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Let’s face it, the Mariners have invested $240 million into Robinson Cano, added Corey Hart, and have traded for Logan Morrison. Right now, they have improved from the 2013 season but aren’t in the same conversation as the Oakland Athletics or Texas Rangers.
If the Dodgers fail to land Tanaka they will certainly be interested in David Price. Right now they have a strong rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Dan Haren. Josh Beckett may be ready to assume the fifth starters role by opening day and Chad Billingsly may be ready to return form Tommy John surgery by mid-season but failing to land Tanaka and adding David Price makes their rotation even more formidable and balanced.
If the Dodgers land Tanaka would this cause the Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, and St. Louis Cardinals to view Price differently? Can the National League teams allow the Dodgers to assemble a powerhouse team without reacting?
None of these scenarios may materialize but we won’t know for sure until after Tanaka signs. Once he does, I expect the rumors to begin churning and many of them involving David Price.
The Rays Can Always Trade Him At The Deadline Or Next Offseason?
The “go for it” theory at work. Bring David Price back and if things don’t work out for the team trade him at the deadline when he still has a year and a half of team control or ride it out until the end of the 2014 season.
There are several problems with this strategy. The first is that the organization manages to put a black cloud over its head from the time pitchers and catchers report until after the trade deadline. Losing streaks strike up the rumor mill, teams begin sifting around to judge if the Rays are ready to cash it in, and this demoralizing feeling is magnified 100x the day the trade is actually made.
The other problem is that every day that passes a team trading for him loses one day of control on his remaining two years. Additionally, every five days he takes the mound he risks injury or poor performance. There would be no more of a deflating feeling throughout the Rays front office than watching Ron Porterfield go out to the mound and have Price walk off holding his left arm.
The Reward OF Winning The World Series
The Rays celebrating a World Championship would be a very special moment for the Rays organization and for David Price who along with Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist are the only members of the 2008 World Series squad.
The fact remains that the Rays have had David Price in their starting rotation beginning in May of 2009 and have been to the post-season in 2010, 2012, and 2013 and failed to advance beyond the ALDS. This statement isn’t meant to diminish David Price but serves as an example of how success in the regular season with a start pitcher like David Price isn’t always the vehicle that carries a team across the finish line.
The one part of Jim Hickey‘s quote that people have grasped onto as an example that the Rays won’t trade Price was his end comment….”But that being said, if it happens, here goes Matt Moore, here goes (Alex Cobb), here goes (RHP Chris) Archer, here goes (RHP Jeremy Hellickson), and we’re going to win 90 games and compete.”
Of course, the road is easier to navigate with David Price leading the way. I would prefer the Rays hold on to him and will not be happy when he is traded but I firmly believe that the Rays will trade him prior to the opening of spring training. The team will get a package of players back that will include a viable starting pitcher who could step in to the rotation in 2014 as well as one or two high ceiling prospects that can serve to restock the farm system after several years of poor drafting.
The Rays are running out of ammunition to continue the process that has led to the third most victories in the major leagues since 2008 and has resulted in a playoff appearance in four of the past six seasons. An organization like the Rays can not carry the risk that comes with diminished value either by winding the clock closer to free agency, injury, or poor performance.