Entering the 2013 season, almost everyone around baseball had the same expectation for David Price: that he would dominate the entire year before getting traded for prospects over the winter. Instead, what so many people thought was a lock to happen has entirely unraveled. Half of the 2013 season has still to be played, but Price’s performance has not gone nearly as planned. He struggled early in the year, managing just a 5.24 ERA in his first 9 starts, and then went down with a triceps strain, something he is only returning from now. The offseason saw Price’s name in rumors tied to seemingly every team in baseball in exchange for packages featuring every top prospect you’ve heard of and then some. Now the trade chatter has lost its steam as Price’s trade value sits at its lowest point in a long time and teams will just have to wait and see how he does when he returns.
After the first part of the nearly universal prediction has not taken place, it’s easy to doubt the second part of it as well. Price’s rough start to the year, especially with an injury involved, has to lessen his chances of being dealt. The thing about Price getting traded, though, was that it was extremely unlikely that it was ever going to occur until after the season. The only way the Rays were ever going to ship out Price at the trade deadline was be in the unlikely event that they dropped out of contention, which they predictively have not. So is all of this talk of Price’s current trade value irrelevant? If Price comes back and returns to dominance, will his trade value return to just about where it was before the season? And from the perspective of Rays fans, has Price’s injury drastically increased the chances that he will still be a Tampa Bay Ray at this time next year? Rays owner Stuart Sternberg weighed in on Price’s future in Tampa Bay in his interview with Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi and had this to say:
"FS: Getting back to the roster, David Price will be two years from free agency at the end of this season. No matter what, by then you’re not going to have revenues from a new ballpark to sign him long term. What are the chances he’s going to be a Ray at this time next year?SS: I expect him to be a Ray at this time next year, absolutely. I don’t envision a scenario that he’s not. Given some of the contracts signed recently by pitchers, it’s difficult to have a Cy Young Award winner in the prime of his career that fits into the Rays’ mold — even if our revenues are up. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen."
I don’t envision a scenario that he’s not. What in the world does Sternberg mean by that? There could be two things that he is talking about here: the Rays’ willingness to hold onto players as they approach free agency and that Price’s injury has significantly lowered what he could yield in a trade. The common thread between those two points is Price’s value. The Rays didn’t deal players like Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton before they hit free agency because they believed that their value to the team was greater than their trade value. For Price, the same logic could apply and be even more incisive.
As long as Price stays healthy coming back from his stint on the DL, his injury should have no impact on his ability to perform. Whatever he was dealing with has passed, and we have to think that him returning to ace form is forthcoming. After Price’s poor results to begin the year coincided with a 2 MPH decrease in fastball velocity, you could even argue that it was better for him and better for the Rays that he went on the shelf and got back to full strength. Instead of dealing Price at the deadline like some suggested, the Rays will be making the biggest pre-deadline acquisition in baseball by getting Price back at the beginning of July. However, while all the indications are that Price will be coming back as the pitcher we’re used to seeing, his trade value has suffered a blow from which it may never recover.
Price hit the disabled list with what was described as a “triceps strain.” What is the triceps? It’s a muscle on the back of your arm between your elbow and shoulder that plays a major role in allowing you to extend your elbow joint and straighten out your arm. With the elbow so much of a focus for pitchers, it’s easy to see why the triceps is so important. There have been rumors, though, that when the Rays said “triceps,” they were actually using it as a euphemism for a substantially more important part of the arm: the shoulder. Shoulder injuries are especially terrifying because unlike for the elbow, surgery on the shoulder remains an uncertain process. And while Price’s injury is nowhere near that severe, when teams are looking to acquire an ace pitcher and try to sign him to a big long-term extension, that pitcher having a shoulder problem in his history is a major deterrent. Everyone still agrees that David Price will be a very good pitcher in the short term. However, with the specter of the “triceps” injury looming, suddenly the gap between Price’s value to the Rays right now and his value to the Rays is enormous and only growing.
The Rays traded Scott Kazmir in August of 2009 because the gap between his contract far overvalued his performance. They traded Matt Garza in January of 2010 and James Shields in December of 2012 because they received offers for them featuring prospects they had only dreamed of acquiring before the offers came along. Those are the two categories of starting pitchers that the Rays have traded, and David Price doesn’t fit in with Kazmir and may be unlikely to join the former group as well. He’s making a lot of money especially by Rays standards, $10.1125 million in 2013, but he’s a talented enough pitcher to warrant that. And while it takes only one desperate team to make a blockbuster trade happen, the triceps injury has made odds of the Rays getting an offer that blows them away decrease exponentially. The Rays understand that right now David Price gives them the most value as a pitcher and not a trade chip. They’re not going to trade Price just to trade him and are unafraid of him pitching great for them over the next three years and leaving as a free agent. Unless teams make a complete 180 in their assessment of Price over the coming months, the odds are that Price will be the Rays next season and quite possibly for the next two.