Time is running out for the Tampa Bay Rays to return to relevancy in the AL East. After winning four out of five games, the Rays were beaten by the Baltimore Orioles two straight times, leaving them 13 games back in the division. At this point, pending a drastic turnaround, the Rays will be sellers and their biggest trade chip will be David Price. The Rays will deal their ace to the team that gives them the best offer and begin life without him. However, there is a clear scenario where the Rays would have to strongly consider declining to take the best possible package back: if the team with the offer is one of their division rivals. The AL East team with the clearest incentive to make a deal is the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Rays will face an interesting dilemma if the Blue Jays do indeed emerge as the frontrunner for Price.
One thing we know for sure is that the Rays are not inherently opposed to trading Price to Toronto. They scouted Blue Jays lefty pitching prospect Daniel Norris in his last start, and Norris is exactly the type of high-upside minor leaguer that could headline a Price trade. The Jays have the prospects to make an impressive offer for Price if they so desire–that is not really in question. However, this is not the case where the Rays would get a boatload of prospects and Price would be on the Blue Jays for half a season. In reality, Price is under team control for 2015 as well, so next season, when the Rays will be attempting to contend again, Price will stand in their way. Wouldn’t it be an admission of defeat by the Rays if they let that happen?
There are several factors the Rays have to consider as they decide whether trading David Price to the Blue Jays would make sense. The first is going to be whether the return they get will outweigh the fact that they will make their division rival better for the next year and a half. This is certainly a scenario where the Rays will try to get Toronto to give up a premium for Price, but the question is always whether the Rays will have enough bargaining power to realistically do that. We saw this offseason that the Rays never got the type of offer they were looking for–could they really turn down Toronto if they were their only legitimate option? A lot will truly depend on the availability of Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who just rejected a five-year extension offer from Chicago. If Samardzija is unavailable or is traded to a team other than the Blue Jays, the Rays will have a lot of leverage in trade talks. Either the Rays trade Price to Toronto or the Jays will not be able to acquire an ace-caliber pitcher at the deadline. If the Rays are able to have the upper hand in negotiations and get several of the Blue Jays’ top prospects, it would be hard to see them turning that down.
Another question the Rays will have to answer is whether the Blue Jays have the money to extend David Price. If they do, then suddenly they could be facing off against him for the next six or seven years–something that would seem like a relatively embarrassing situation when you’re trading one of your franchise players. The Jays payroll appears to be pretty full right now, as evidenced by the fact that they didn’t do much this offseason, but Mark Buehrle is a free agent after 2015, and the same will be true of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion after 2016. All three are key players for the Blue Jays that they will want to keep around, but they could elect to let at least one of them go and make a legitimate extension order to Price. Should the Rays really deal Price knowing that the Jays could end up having him at the top of their rotation for years to come? That would be annoying, but there is still a pretty large probability that they don’t keep him, and a big enough return would make the Rays fine no matter what happens. The Rays can’t be so scared of Price being on the Blue Jays in 2016 and beyond that they are unwilling to trade him to Toronto now.
The Tampa Bay Rays’ preference would certainly be for another team to beat the Toronto Blue Jays with their offer for David Price and make their decision easy. If the Blue Jays do come out in front, though, the Rays will be willing to make a deal, especially if they can hedge the fact that they share of a division to up their return even more. Not trading within the division is a rule the Rays would love to follow in an ideal world, but they could very well go against it if this trade deadline plays out in the right fashion.