There are two players that the Rays have to consider breaking the bank for if that’s what they have to do to keep them in uniform for the foreseeable future. The first is Evan Longoria. The second is David Price.
Just minutes after David Price took home the American League Cy Young award, CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler tackled the issue of whether the Rays should trade Price with his value at an all-time high. The answer to that question is a resounding no for two reasons: 1) the Rays could never get a fair return for Price and 2) ace left-handers with superlative stuff, pinpoint control, durability, and a team mentality don’t come along very often.
Knobler mentioned the Texas Rangers as a possible destination for Price and a package of something like top shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar, pitching prospect Martin Perez, and outfielder David Murphy to get the deal done. The problem: David Price is an actualized talent with the ability to dominate major league hitter for years to come. He just turned 27 in August and he may even have room to grow. As long as the Rays keep Price, he will a pitcher with the ability to dominate opposing hitters every time out and however far the Rays get in coming seasons, David Price will be a principal reason that they got there. Trading a pitcher like Price would be a franchise-defining trade. No matter who the Rays would get in return in a Price trade, the analysts would rip them apart and the main storyline would be “What a pity it is that the Rays had such an unbelievable pitcher in Price but had to trade him because they couldn’t afford him.” Take this potential trade package. Jurickson Profar has unbelievable potential and a chance to be a superstar in the big leagues, but he has a total of 17 plate appearances above Double-A. Martin has excellent stuff but is also coming off a season between Triple-A and the big leagues in which he managed just an 89-71 strikeout to walk ratio. Murphy had a huge 2012, posting a .304/.380/.479 line with 15 homers and 10 stolen bases, but he turned 31 in October and has just two years left under team control. If the Rays did that trade, it might be the best move they have ever made- Profar could sign a team-friendly extension and become one of the top few players in baseball, something could click for Perez and he could be a topflight big league starter, and Murphy could be a central part of the Rays’ lineup. But how likely is that to happen? What if Profar doesn’t quite live up to his potential, Perez flames out, and Murphy isn’t nearly as productive of a player leaving Arlington? The Rays would never stop being chastised for trading Price! What is fair trade value for Price? It’s too high to quantify.
The Rays have loads of pitching depth. Wouldn’t the drop-off between the Rays’ rotation with and without Price not be nearly as large as the potential improvements the Rays could make to their lineup? Didn’t the Rays make the playoffs in 2011 while Price had an up-and-down year? We love James Shields and we saw him have an unbelievable 2011 season- but at the same time he has several games a year when his fastball or changeup is off and looks like nothing more than a mediocre pitcher. Shields can be counted on each year for 200 innings, but not for numbers that place him among the best pitchers in baseball. Pitchers like Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Chris Archer have tremendous potential, but what are the chances that everything clicks in a Price-esque fashion for even one of them? Every year the Rays have Price, the rest of the Rays starters know that they have someone behind them delivering quality performances and often even more every single start. That piece of mind takes the pressure off of them and lets them just go out to the mound and pitch. Without the stability of Price, we can’t be sure what will happen with the Rays rotation. And if the Rays’ rotation were to crumble, they’re hopeless.
You can trade players with risk. Sometimes Shields just looks off, and the young starters show promise but also consistency. The Rays may be better served moving forward with a little less upside on the pitching front and more potential among their position players as they hope to take the next step as a franchise and go from contending for the playoffs to going for championships. At the end of the day, it does make sense for the Rays to trade a starting pitcher. But how do you trade a pitcher in Price who has firmly established himself as a true ace and may still be getting better?