The big question still on everybody’s minds is whether David Price will be with the Tampa Bay Rays next season. Before that, however, the Rays have to worry about coming to terms with him in arbitration. Price is eligible for the third time as a Super Two player after a 2013 season that saw him go 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA and a 151-27 strikeout to walk ratio in 27 starts and 186.2 innings pitched. After Price made $10.1125 million in 2013, what can we expect him to make in 2014? Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors has projected Price to make $13.1 million through arbitration, a raise of just under $3 million from last season. Let’s put that raise in context and see whether a higher or lower salary could make sense.
Tim Lincecum was in a relatively similar situation to Price as a Super Two pitcher with an incredible pedigree through his first four full years in the major leagues. Then in year five, he rebounded from something of an off year in 2010 (3.43 ERA) to put up his third outstanding year in 2011, going 13-14 but with a 2.74 ERA in 217 innings pitched. For his efforts, Lincecum got his second two-year extension, getting a raise from $14 million to $18 million. Price’s fifth year wasn’t nearly as good as Lincecum’s, so let’s call that $4 million raise the maximum he could possibly get.
The Rays would much rather quote the case of Roy Oswalt. Oswalt was excellent in his first five years from 2001 to 2005 then had his another strong year if not his best one in 2006, going 15-8 with a 2.98 ERA in 220.2 innings pitched. But that August, he agreed to an extension with the Houston Astros that gave him a raise of just $2 million for 2007. The argument back from Price’s side, however, would be that Oswalt agreed to a team-friendly deal so he could stay in town. Let’s call $2 million the floor for Price in these negotiations.
Two cases that are a little more pertinent to Price are Wandy Rodriguez and Chad Billingsley. After a good but injury-limited 2008, Rodriguez had a breakout 2009, going 14-12 with a 3.02 ERA in 205.2 innings pitched. Then in 2010, Rodriguez had a solid but unspectacular year, going 11-12 with a 3.60 ERA in 198 innings pitched. For his efforts, he got a raise from $5 million to $7.5 million as he got a raise from the Astros. Billingsley, meanwhile, was better than Rodriguez in his first five years, managing a 3.55 ERA in 825.2 innings pitched, but he had his worst season in 2011, going 11-11 with a 4.21 ERA in 188 innings pitched. For his efforts, he got a raise of $2.75 million in his extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Price was better than each of them, especially when we consider his strikeout-to-walk ratio and complete games, but Price pitched in less innings than both and his ERA looks a lot more like Rodriguez’s if we adjust to ballpark. $2.75 million for Billingsley may have been a slight overpay on the Dodgers’ part, but compared to Rodriguez, that number could make a lot of sense for Price.
Last offseason, the Rays were able to get a deal done with David Price a few days before the deadline and avoid any drama. But things are much easier when you’re offering a raise of nearly $6 million. Despite how dominant he was when he returned from the disabled list, Price’s overall subpar season by his lofty standards has him looking at a less desirable number. And the thing about the Rays is that considering how successful they have been at winning arbitration hearings (they’re 6 for 6), they can take a hardline stance and know that they have a chance of leveraging a player into taking less money than he really wants. I’ll say that the Rays offer Price a $2.75 million raise and he counters with $3.3 million and they wind up agreeing to a $12.9 million deal, with Price sacrificing money because he doesn’t want to go to a hearing versus the best in the business.
When Swartz redid his prediction through comparable players, he thought that Price would get a $3.5 million raise. What that doesn’t account for is how good the Rays have proven themselves to be in these negotiations and the fact that they have additional motivation because they deferred $4 million of Price’s 2013 contract to this year with their payroll already at record heights. In fact, Swartz thought that the $6 million Price received last was on the upper year was on the upper end of what he would possibly get–any chance he and the Rays worked out that some of that money would be part of what he would get for this season? David Price will get his money through free agency or a big extension elsewhere in due time. For now, though, expect him to settle for less because you don’t go to an arbitration hearing against Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays, especially when they are as motivated as ever.