Six years and $120 million plus a $20 million release fee. That is the type of contract you give to one of the best players in baseball. In pitcher terms, that is right there with what Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, and Johan Santana received. When you pay a player that type of money, you are expecting an ace to lead your staff year after year. Masahiro Tanaka could be that good of a pitcher. But when he is receiving that type of money, anything short of dominance will not be good enough. The pressure will be on Tanaka, maybe even more so than Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish. The team that signs him better be confident in his ability and hope and pray that he will stay healthy. Even then, signing him comes with plenty of risk. It is no coincidence that almost every favorite in the bidding is among the teams with the most resources in baseball–the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Chicago Cubs. Maybe it will be worth it. Tanaka is only 25, so six years of him could be more valuable than six years of any pitcher who received a similar contract. But as the bidding for Tanaka continues, it is staggering how cheap David Price looks in comparison.
In 2014, David Price will make $14 million in his third go through arbitration. Next season, if he has a Cy Young season, maybe he will make $20 million for whatever team he is playing for, but even that seems pretty unlikely. Yes, David Price’s salary in 2015 will likely be less than what Tanaka average salary will be on the deal he is about to sign. Of course, David Price will be a free agent after that pending an extension, and he will get a huge contract of his own. But for this year, Price is an ace making two-thirds of what a pitcher with number two starter potential is about to get. If you are wondering why the Rays are keeping David Price even though his cost keeps getting higher, the answer is right before your eyes.
This season, we have seen a shift in the Rays’ mindset. We know that their funds are limited and they have to find undervalued players to keep contending. But their definition of undervalued is not the same that it was even two or three years ago. Undervalued does not mean the Rays have to scrape the bargain bin for players making $3 million or less, maybe splurging once for a player making $5 million. Now the Rays are looking at relative value. $21 million is a lot of money for the Rays, but they gave James Loney that over three years because they are confident that his contributions to their team will vastly outweigh his $7 million annual salary. The extensions for Ryan Hanigan and David DeJesus were the same thing, and the Rays were even willing to take on Heath Bell‘s salary to acquire Hanigan. When was the last time the Rays took on anybody’s salary? But they are doing something that seems even more extreme with David Price. He will easily top the highest salary ever by a Rays player, and he will account for around 18% of their total payroll. Can the Rays really afford him? Well, they are about to do just that and they are perfectly happy with their decision. David Price is a true ace and the Rays have him under salary at a fraction of what he is worth. You will not find a better value on the market than that.