David Price was the Rays’ highest paid player in 2013 and he’s only going to get more expensive next year. As a Super Two arbitration-eligible player in 2013, Price settled for a $10.1125 million contract to avoid. As part of the deal, Price deferred $4 million of his 2013 contract to 2014. Add to that an anticipated $5-6 million increase through the arbitration process this year and Price’s 2014 contract hits around $20 million, which would be the largest single-season salary in Rays history by a large margin. That gives the Rays three choices: pay the money, kick the salary can down the road, or trade Price. Given the Rays past baseball business model, the answer seems obvious: sadly, the Rays must trade Price.
Now that the Rays have made this decision, they have to find a trading partner–not an easy task. Anyone who wants to trade for Price will want to lock him up. Nobody is going to meet the Rays prospect demand for a two-year rental. Locking him up probably means a Justin Verlander-type 7-year, $180 million deal . Do the math and that’s about $25 million a year. There are maybe a dozen teams that could afford that kind of money for a player who takes the field once every five days. Add to this issue that the Rays are probably loath to deal Price to an AL East team and it’s an even shorter list.
Once you find teams that want to deal, they need to have the prospects the Rays want and they will be be willing to give up. That thins the list out even more. The Rays trading model has been to get one or two major league ready prospects and two or three A-level prospects with a lot of upside. Get out your Baseball America Prospect Handbook and try and find big market teams with that level of prospects. There are not many.
However, deals can be made. Two teams do come to mind are the Rangers and the Dodgers. Nolan Ryan would love to have David Price and solidfy their rotation. So lets make a deal. The Rangers could offer infielder Jurickson Profar, who was their top prospect the last couple of years and remains a high-upside player. We know the Rays need a catcher, and acquiring a player like the Rangers’ current #1 prospect, Jorge Alfaro, would be extremely attractive. Should the Rangers offer a package of say those two and a pitcher like Cody Buckel, who was a highly-touted prospect until running into control issues this year, and that might be enough to faciliate a deal.
The other team that comes to mind is the Dodgers. They have more money than they know what to do with and the thought of adding Price to Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu is scary for the rest of baseball. Not known as a team with a deep minor league system, how could the Dodgers go after Price? The interesting thing is going to be their outfield situation. The Dodgers are stuck with four players for three spots in Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. Would they consider trading one of them in a Price trade? Would they consider something like a Price for Puig straight-up deal? Would they be willing to send money to the Rays and a prospect or two to the Rays to go along with Crawford or Ethier? Both of those possiblities sound crazy, but the Dodgers are expected to be the most aggressive team for Price according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. The Dodgers do have some strong prospects as well, with players such as infielder Corey Seager and right-hander Zach Lee being prospects who could catch the Rays’ eye. But with the Dodgers unlikely to net Price with prospects alone, will they be aggressive enough to package one of their outfielders to make a trade happen?
The last option, the Cardinals, have the prospects and young major leaguers to make a trade happen. You can almost imagine the Rays licking their chops at the possibility of acquiring a pitcher like Michael Wacha or Lance Lynn. Like the Rays, however, they like their young pitching, and while they budget is much bigger than Tampa Bay’s, they don’t like big contracts either. With the Cardinals not looking like a real option, the competition will likely come down to the Rangers and Dodgers.
As much as I would like to see Price in the National league, you have to like the Rangers’ deal better even if the Dodgers do make a crazy offer. Profar could plug in a second base with Zobrist moving to the outfield, Alfaro could be another candidate for catcher of the future, and Buckel is exactly the type of challenge the Rays love taking on. Meanwhile, acquiring an aging outfielder isn’t exactly what the Rays have in mind for a Price trade. A Puig offer might be more interesting, but he might be a head case and he isn’t all that cheap himself the next five years. At any rate, the man who really has to make this happen is Andrew Friedman and we all know he is up to the challenge.