There are very few players in a comparable situation to the one David Price is with the Rays right now- a great player who loves playing for his current team, but who is so valuable and so close to free agency that an extension may not be possible, and if that’s really the case, a trade might be inevitable. One the closest parallels out there might be Padres third baseman Chase Headley, coming off a 5th place season in the NL MVP voting after a huge season that saw him hit .286 with 31 home runs and 17 stolen bases, win a Gold Glove, and most impressively, lead the NL in RBIs at 115 despite playing for the San Diego Padres in the extremely pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Headley avoided arbitration with the Padres by agreeing to a 1-year, $8,575,000 contract but will be eligible for free agency following the 2014 season (Price will be a free agent following 2015) and talked to Bill Center of the San Diego-Union Times about that possibility of signing an extension to keep him with the Padres long-term.
“We talked about a long-term contract briefly at the start of these negotiations,” said Headley. “It was a quick discussion. We weren’t on the same page right from the start. This close to free agency, it has to be a good deal for us. You can’t sacrifice what’s fair.
“If we can do something that makes sense, I’d love to stay a Padre.”
There’s a clear duality in Headley’s comments: he wants to stay with the Padres, but at the same time he wants a deal up to the standard and monetary values that he believes he should receive. He specifically mentions that “This close to free agency, it has to be a good deal for us”- just a couple years from free agency, he’s not going to sign a team-friendly extension to receive financial security. He knows how good of a player he is and what type of money he could make on the open market, and while he hopes the Padres give him a competitive offer and maybe he would choose to stay in San Diego for a slightly less money, his ultimate goal is the find the best contract for him, and if that doesn’t come with the Padres, so be it. The exact same thinking is evident between David Price and the Rays, but with Price being an even better player than Headley, the situation may be even more dire.
After everything that he has given the Rays the last five years, it’s impossible for Rays fans to imagine a Rays team without David Price. On Price’s end, he can’t picture playing anywhere else. But sentimentality isn’t everything for Price as he thinks about his future. Price didn’t sign a team-friendly extension years ago and now free agency is staring right in the face. It’s one thing to leave a couple million dollars a year on the table to stay in the place that he’s played his entire career. It’s another matter entirely when the best contract the Rays could possibly offer Price pales in comparison with the type of deal he could get on the open market. Rays fans can hope that maybe with additional TV money coming in, the Rays will be willing to go above and beyond what they do for any other player not named Evan Longoria and give Price an offer he’ll at least have to seriously consider. They can hope that Price keeps a level head in negotiations and is willing to make sacrifices to stay with the team that has given him everything the possibly could since the moment they signed him. But if the Rays never give him an offer in line with what he believes he should receive, his feelings will mean little because an extension will be impossible for him to justify. And once the Rays see that the negotiations have reached that point, a Rays future without David Price could be happening sooner rather than later.