It seems to be a foregone conclusion that David Price‘s days in Tampa Bay are numbered. He’s making $10.1125MM this year and only getting more expensive, and the Rays simply can’t afford to hold onto him for much longer. Is that such a terrible thing? Well, David Price has been an excellent pitcher the past few years, but the Rays will be just fine without him with plenty of pitching depth (including Matt Moore being an obvious candidate to step in as ace) and also because Price is going to command quite a return. But while both of those facts seemed pretty clear for a while, that may not necessarily be the case anymore after the triceps strain that landed Price on the disabled list.
Buster Olney of ESPN Insider talked about the “bind” the Rays are in now that Price is hurt. Olney quotes rumors across baseball that Price’s triceps injury is really a euphemism for his shoulder and that the injury combined with his reduced fastball velocity and usage could be a cause for real concern. And if Price fails to regain his 2012 form after he comes back, Olney states that the Rays would be stuck in a situation similar to the spot to the one that the Minnesota Twins were in with Johan Santana. Should that happen, the Rays may be forced to either trade Price for a lesser return or keep him and his high salary for one more year hoping he will reestablish his value, risking his value dropping even more should he not return to ace form. Could this injury be the start of a disastrous series of events that leaves the Rays with a pitcher they thought was an ace that suddenly no one wants to trade for?
The big thing to notice about Olney’s comments was that they only pertain to a particular scenario: that Price comes back and still isn’t the same. Olney talks about how the Rays don’t have much time for him to reestablish his value before the trade deadline. However, that’s almost entirely irrelevant. Who said the Rays are going to be out of contention by the trade deadline? They’re at .500 now, everybody. It’s far too early to count this team out. It was always exceedingly unlikely that the Rays were going to trade Price at the trade deadline. Really, Price has the rest of the season to get back on track if he needs its–and there’s a good chance that he’ll come back and resume looking like a topflight pitcher anyway.
But it isn’t just a matter of performance–Santana managed a 3.33 ERA in 219 innings pitched in his final year as a Twin. Doesn’t Price have to not only pitch well but show improved velocity to restore his trade value? Yes, but the probability of that happening is much higher than you might think. Olney quoted a stat that Price’s fastball velocity was down form 95.5 MPH to 92.8–but that’s a misleading stat because that’s the four-seamer that Price rarely uses. His two-seamer has seen a more modest drop from 95.3 MPH to 93.6 MPH, still noticeable but more modest. And whatever is causing Price’s reduced velocity, whether it’s his triceps (or shoulder) or otherwise, now he has time to get it back to 100% and hopefully return at full strength. Price will be fine performance-wise, and the chances of him getting his velocity back are relatively high as well.
The Rays have reason to be concerned about David Price both as a pitcher and as a trade chip. It’s certainly not a good thing that Price is going on the DL and that his velocity has been reduced all season. However, it’s certainly too early to think that his trade value is going to be diminished significantly by what’s going on and the Rays have to expect that Price will revert back to normal when he returns. If Price comes back and still isn’t the same, then the Rays will be in a tough spot. But let’s see if that actually happens before we speculate about how this injury pertains to the return the Rays will get in a deal and just worry about how he will do when he returns to the mound for the Rays.