We were sure that it was inevitable. The Rays had been unable to sign B.J. Upton to an extension, and as he approached free agency, the Rays were going to have to trade him, right? That was certainly the way things seemed. But at the end of the day, they didn’t. They held onto Upton throughout 2011 and 2012 as well, and they were rewarded by Upton leading the team in home runs (28) and tying for the lead in stolen bases (31) in his final year with the team. Following the season, Upton left Tampa Bay and found his big contract elsewhere, agreeing to a 5-year, $75.25MM contract with the Atlanta Braves.
Why didn’t the Rays trade Upton? Because they believed that his contributions to their team were worth more than any trade offer they received, and their reward for sticking with him was a compensatory first round pick in this year’s MLB Draft. Did the Rays make the right decision? We can’t be sure what the Rays would have gotten for Upton and only time will tell what the compensation pick will turn into. What we do know, though, is that the Rays sticking with Upton until the end was the only thing that kept them in contention in 2012 as Upton caught fire at the end of 2012 and without him the Rays certainly would have nailed down their third straight 90-win season (although not a playoff berth). What does any of this have to do with David Price? Over the coming years, the Rays will be forced to make a major decision with their star left-hander: to keep him until the last possible moment like they did with Upton or to trade him for a massive reward like they elected to do with James Shields.
In a video for Fox Sports, Ken Rosenthal talked about when the Rays will trade David Price. He said that in the “unlikely event” that the Rays will fall out of contention by the trade deadline, Price will likely be dealt then, but otherwise he will likely be traded following the season. Rosenthal’s more interesting comment, though, was that the Rays could keep Price without too much of a problem in 2014 thanks to the extra $27MM in TV revenue that will be coming to the Rays that year through the new national TV detail. However, Rosenthal warns, that would lower his trade value significantly as he would be much closer to free agency. But how much does that really matter? David Price is one of the best pitchers in baseball and the Rays having him on their team for an additional year or two could make all the difference.
For years now, the Rays have been juggling contending now and building for the future. As they do that, the big thing for them is their players’ value- how much they mean to the team versus how much they could net in a trade. When a player’s trade value is greater than what he gives the team, that’s when they trade him. Price’s value to the team is so incredibly high because he is such a talented pitcher, and the Rays are going to be hard-pressed to get fair value or more in a trade. You could make the argument that the Rays have plenty of pitching depth, with Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb being talented young pitchers the Rays have at the big league level right now and players like Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, and Taylor Guerrieri coming up, so the value Price gives the Rays on the mound isn’t nearly what he could give them if a trade for him acquires the type of prolific hitter the Rays have been missing in their lineup for years. But even then, that hitter would have to be something special, like we saw the Rays do when they acquired Wil Myers in exchange James Shields. Anything less than that caliber of prospect and the Rays might improve their offense, but probably not enough to counteract the loss of Price.
In a mailbag for the Texas Rangers‘ official website, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan stated that if the Rangers could trade top prospect Jurickson Profar and more for a player like David Price or Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, they would do so without a moment’s hesitation. For a David Price trade to happen, Sullivan better be right and his logic better hold true for not only the Rangers but also other teams holding one of the top position player prospects in baseball, such as the Cardinals with Oscar Taveras. But even that would not be enough- the Rays would have to be confident enough in their remaining rotation options to be willing to trade Price away. If Moore, Hellickson, and Cobb emerge as pitchers who can be the top 3 in an excellent major league rotation, then it becomes much easier for the Rays to deal Price. Even as the Rays were able to get Myers for Shields, they only did the trade because they believed their rotation was good enough to compensate for the loss of Shields without missing a beat.
For the Rays to trade away David Price, they will have to receive a trade offer that blows them away by featuring one of the top prospects in baseball- but that’s not the only factor. If the Rays aren’t certain that their starting rotation will be good enough for them to continue to contending even as Price departs, it will be an easy decision for them to refrain from trading him and reevaluate their position in another year. It seems crazy that the Rays would possibly consider holding onto Price as he gets increasingly expensive, making his eventual exit from Tampa Bay an inevitability. But the Rays aren’t trading Price as a selling team knowing they can’t contend and hoping to trade their stars and acquire prospects that will change their outcome for the future. They’re only trading Price if they believe that their team reaches a point where it can remain formidable without him. Otherwise, as they have shown in the past, they will be more than content to keep their ace lefty Price right at the top of the top of their rotation for one more year and maybe more knowing just how much he gives them season after season. And if that happens, maybe they decide that the right moment for them to trade Price will never arrive.