Where Will Tampa Bay Rays Pitcher David Price Land?
Once again, the Tampa Bay Rays have a starting pitcher at the top of his game with two years remaining on his contract, and once again, the trade rumors are flying. This offseason, David Price could be moving on, following in the footsteps of James Shields and Matt Garza, whom the necessarily frugal Rays had to trade away at the peak of their value for a haul of prospects. Below we will review the top teams that might be the most likely landing places for Price, if in fact the Rays trade the 2012 Cy Young winner.
If the Rays do move Price, they will certainly be looking to get more than they got for Shields. Since that particular prize was Wil Myers, a leading contender for Rookie of the Year, there are only so many teams with controllable personnel and prospects that might interest them. But this is not just a list of the teams with the best farm systems. To acquire Price, a team must have the wherewithal to offer an extension befitting an elite pitcher, or at least have the ability to make the playoffs within the two years they would have Price under control.
And while it is true that most teams could make room for a proven ace like Price, the following probably have the most complementary reasons to deal with the Rays.
Why it could happen: The Royals have been down this path once, and it worked. Shields led Kansas City to its first winning season since 2003, only the second in the past 20 years, and the team was a wild card contender until the waning days of the season. With a quality bullpen and a maturing cadre of talented young position players, shoring up the rotation is job one in KC. Ervin Santana’s free agency makes both room and motivation for the team to chase Price. And while they can’t offer the Rays a big-league ready bat as they did last offseason in Myers, the Royals could probably put together an attractive package of their top prospects that could include future stars Bubba Starling and Adalberto Mondesi, and high-upside pitchers like Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura and Sean Manaea.
Why it might not happen: The Royals probably don’t have the financial ability to extend Price, and certainly not both Price and Shields, so management needs to adopt a “win now” philosophy and try to make the playoffs within the next two years. Will they? The Royals also can’t offer a bat that can help the Rays in 2014. Most importantly, Rays fans will revolt if they see Price and Shields together again in powder blues.
Why it could happen: With a rotation that delivered a 5.26 ERA this year, the Twins are in desperate need of starting pitching. The team also has some of the best prospects in baseball, with consensus number one Byron Buxton and the hard-hitting Miguel Sano not far behind. While the team has one of the stingier payrolls, it did spend more than $100 million in 2011 and 2012, and owner Jim Polhad has signaled his willingness to boost spending beyond the $82 million the team paid out this year. Certainly the Rays would find plenty to like among the Twins’ position player prospects and right-handed arms.
Why it might not happen: Unless it’s a negotiating ploy, the Twins have all but declared their top two prospects to be untouchable, which would cool the Rays’ interest in a deal. Polhad’s willingness to spend may not encompass an extension for Price, which would likely be among the top contracts in the major leagues.
Why it could happen: After last offseason in which the team placed big bets on free agents like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, the Indians roared to 92 wins in 2013, finally dropping the wild card game to the Rays. Price could be the difference maker to push them over the top, fronting an already good rotation and providing a needed arm from the left side. With a number of players entering free agency, there will be enough salary cleared for Cleveland to take Price on for at least the rest of his contract. The Tribe may also be able to offer the Rays something that fills their biggest hole – a big-league defensive catcher who can hit. Yan Gomes was a revelation this year, and he comes with enough control to make the Tampa front office take notice. A deal involving Gomes or top shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor, packaged with a future bat like Clint Frazier and some pitching prospects could just be the ticket.
Why it might not happen: Gomes was an integral part of the Indians success this season, and with Asdrubal Cabrera only signed through next year, the Indians will be looking to Lindor to be their shortstop of the future. The team will want to keep both if they can and might be loath to give either one up for what may just be two years of David Price. But beyond these two, it’s hard to see someone the Rays might trade for.
Why it could happen: The Pirates have proven themselves to be contenders, so even without an extension, Price can help them to the postseason. With A.J. Burnett’s impending free agency and possible retirement, Price would also provide the kind of clubhouse leadership that could shape the Bucs’ top young arms like Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Even though Pittsburgh is a small market, Burnett’s departure would take $8 million off the payroll, which would help the team take on Price for two years of playoff contention. The Pirates also have a deep stash of prospects to offer, including outfielder Gregory Polanco, whose fielding and offense could help the Rays in the relatively near term, young power arms Luis Heredia and Nick Kingham, and promising catcher Reese McGuire.
Why it might not happen: The Pirates have a few holes to patch to return to the playoffs, and if Burnett comes back, then the rotation may be the least of their concerns. The financial difficulty of offering Price a competitive extension could force the team to view him as no more than a two year rental, sapping his value.
Why it could happen: Texas is a perennial contender even without a deep rotation, and having two aces in Price and Yu Darvish could allow the team to go toe-to-toe with the AL’s best. The team certainly has the financial resources to support that one-two punch. Any deal would have the include Jurickson Profar, as the Rangers’ farm system has already been tapped by promotion and trade. But the team is equipped to part with the young shortstop since it already faces a middle infield logjam with Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus, with prospects Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas coming up in a couple of years. Profar could settle in well for the Rays, patrolling second base for now even in the likely event that the team exercises its option on Yunel Escobar, and providing another quality bat in a lineup that needs offense.
Why it might not happen: Even though Profar is a huge prize, the Rangers would have to find other pieces to pry away Price, including minor league pitching. It’s just not clear that they can come up with a better overall package than other teams.
Why it could happen: The Cubs have the financial ability to extend Price, and after failing to nail down a long term deal with Jeff Samardzija they could still be looking for a rotation anchor. In other respects, the team’s rebuilding is well underway, with long term contracts to Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and a wave of strong prospects who are nearly big league ready. To the Rays, a package including toolsy outfielder Albert Almora and slugger Kris Bryant along with a couple of the many arms Chicago picked up in the draft could be convincing.
Why it might not happen: It will just be a matter of how the pieces fit. The Cubbies’ future looks bright even without Price (well, as bright as it ever gets on the North Side), and their extensive farm system gives them a broad range of strategic options.
While much is made of the way the Tampa front office will want to get the maximum value by trading Price this year, the fact is the Rays will find it hard to part with the leader of their pitching staff. The team certainly felt the loss of Shields this season, his clubhouse presence and his innings-eating ways, but at least they had Price to stabilize the ship. While the team has notable young arms to fall back on in Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Jeremy Hellickson, all are still developing and none can be considered a horse. Even at an arbitration adjusted salary between $13 million and $15 million, Price will be a good deal next year, and the Rays might just want to look extra hard at the free agent bargain basement to fill its holes and keep their ace.