Hi Rays fans. I’m Steve Givarz and I will be joining Rays Colored Glasses as a staff writer. I lived in Tampa for ten years before moving to St. Louis and being forced to watch the Rays from afar, but it’s exciting to get back into the game a little bit by covering the Rays here at RCG. I’m planning on talking more about the business side of baseball and the Rays’ personnel decisions in addition to a variety of other content, and I’ll start today by talking about David Price.
As Tampa Bay Rays fans know, David Price is an ace, a Cy Young winner, a Twitter fan favorite, and becoming more costly for the Rays to keep. David Price just entered his second year of arbitration (he qualified for Super 2 so he gets a fourth year of arbitration) and walked away with a good size paycheck, $10.1125 million, a significant increase from the 4.35 million he made in 2012. Price is now the highest paid player on the team by over $4 million dollars. What does this mean for his future with the Rays? He does not have a team friendly deal similar to Longoria, Moore, or Zobrist. According to Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports, Price is “not taking a discount”. As we saw in the offseason earlier, James Shields and Wade Davis were traded to Kansas City even though both pitchers were under team-friendly contracts in order to help the team. So what would it take for him to stay with the Rays? Below I have listed some of the largest contracts given to pitchers over the past five years.
As you can see, each contract has an AAV of over $20 million and besides Halladay each contract is at least 5 years in length. David Price will be a free agent in 2016 and his value will most likely be similar to that of CC Sabathia when he hit the market or Johan Santana when he signed his extension with the Mets. An interesting case to keep an eye at is another dominant young lefty, Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers. He will not be arbitration eligible again until 2014, making $11 million in 2013 in the final year of a 2-year extension he signed with the Dodgers after the 2011 season. If the Dodgers (aka the Federal Reserve) decide to extend the young ace, Price’s extension would not be far behind considering he’s just about as good and only two years older. If Kershaw isn’t extended, he will be a free agent following the 2014 season, the year before Price is slated to hit the market.
Could a David Price extension be economically feasible for the Rays? Well unless the Rays break ground on a new stadium or work out a new TV deal before it expires in 2016 that will pay them an obscene amount of money, I doubt it. For the 2014 season, Tampa Bay Bay has $14M committed (team options and arbitration cases pending). It is more than likely that David Price will make over $14M in arbitration next year. For a small-market team that is struggling with attendance, higher payroll is not a good idea, a contract over $20M would take up about a third of the existing payroll. If Tampa Bay Bay wants to avoid going into arbitration for the next two years with Price they can sign him to a two-year deal until he becomes a FA in 2016. But that kind of deal will most likely cost between 12-16 million per year; which again places a tough restriction on future deals. When the Rays were dealing with Carl Crawford in his last season, Tampa knew they would not be able to retain him, so he walked and eventually signed for seven years and 142M. With an AAV of just over 20M if he signed with Tampa Bay for that cost, it would have placed major restrictions on the team in the future that would have been exceedingly hard for them to overcome.
Does this mean that the Rays have essentially no choice but to trade Price following the 2013 season or maybe even at the trade deadline should their season start off poorly? No, but it’s certainly a real possibility as he would be the most desired pitcher on the trade block and he’s only getting more expensive each season. Looking at the list of free agent starting pitchers for 2014, some big names include Tim Lincecum, Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright, Roy Halladay and Matt Garza. All of these pitchers will be above 30 if and when they go to free agency, and everyone but Lincecum has injury concerns and Lincecum has been extremely enigmatic the last couple of seasons. Price will be just 28 in August and has missed exactly one start his entire major league career. Rays fans can hope until the very end that something will happen to change the reality that’s rapidly closing in, but Price will be the hottest commodity on the trade market next offseason and the chances of a trade seem more likely by the day.