The Mariners have been the most heavily linked team to David Price as rumors have heated up over the past week at the Winter Meetings. Their best trade chip is easily Taijuan Walker, who is one of pitching prospects in baseball. Given Price’s value as one of the best pitchers in the MLB, it would be easy to see Walker as the headline of any Mariners’ offer for Price. But, as John Heyman tweets, Walker seems untouchable in the eyes of the Mariners, who would rather center any Price package around position players, possibly including catcher Mike Zunino.
Zunino, who was the number 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft, is the Mariners’ most valuable position player. He was also the consensus top catching prospect in baseball before graduating to the big leagues in 2013. However, the Rays are already set at catcher for 2014 and 2015 after acquiring Ryan Hanigan and extending him for 3 years and resigning Jose Molina for 2 years. Young catchers are always at a premium, so the Rays could still acquire Zunino and let him season in the minors for a little longer before figuring out a way of getting him on the roster. However, the Rays would likely want a better fit as the headlinet of any Price package. Therefore, a trade might work better if the Rays and Mariners involved a third team.
There are many teams without a long term solution at catcher, so the market for Zunino would be quite large. Young catchers that have Zunino’s potential are rarely made available, so teams would jump on the opportunity to acquire the catcher of their future. Being able to flip Zunino to a third team would allow the Rays to acquire a prospect that is better fit. I imagine that Andrew Freidman would target a pitching prospect in this situation, although a first base prospect could also be a fit.
Teams that could potentially matchup in a three team deal are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, and Minnesota Twins, among many others. Given the fact that Zunino is under big league control for at least six years, the team that acquired him would not have to be immediately ready to contend. The third team would need the type of quality prospect that the Rays are looking to acquire, as well as the willingness to part with them. But given the rarity of young catchers on the trade market, the Rays and Mariners would likely find a team willing to give up a top prospect to acquire Zunino.
Below is an example of how this three team deal could work if the Dodgers matched up with the Mariners and Rays.
Mariners Acquire: SP David Price from Rays
This trade works well for all teams. The Mariners acquire Price from the Rays without having to give up their top pitching prospects in Walker and James Paxton. The Rays still get the close to major league ready pitching prospect that they are seeking in Lee, and another upper levels prospect, albeit one with less upside, in Reed. Franklin is a young player with a solid bat and the versatility that the Rays love. Hultzen is coming off shoulder surgery, but the former number two overall pick still has incredible upside when he gets healthy. Smoak would fill an immediate need at first base, and could be the Rays’ starter or at least a nice platoon mate with Sean Rodriguez. Finally, Diaz also would be a good acquisition for the Rays as a lower level, high upside player. The Rays not be getting a true consensus top prospect with Zunino going to the Dodgers, but they would be getting six impact players, four of which could see time in the major leagues next year (Hultzen won’t because he is hurt), and they could make the Rays better even without David Price.
The Dodgers would get their catcher of the future in Zunino as well as a fringe prospect in Segovia whom the Rays would have little issue parting with. They would have to give up two former first round picks, but neither Lee nor Reed is considered the Dodgers’ top prospect, and acquiring a catcher of the future would be a conisderable haul. This is just one possible scenario that could occur if the Rays and Mariners involve a third team, but it is a good representation of how this deal could work out.
Thus far, teams who have shown interest in Price seem uninterested in giving up their top pitching prospect to acquire him. Therefore, the Rays could get creative to acquire the topflight starting prospect that they are looking for. A three-team deal is one way the Rays could get a hold of the prospect they want. This could work well between the Mariners and Rays, as the Mariners could look to trade Mike Zunino to a third team as well as other players to the Rays. This team, in turn, would flip one of their top prospects to the Rays. The Rays will explore every avenue they can to get the most value in return for Price and adding a third team to the mix could very well be the way they do just htat.