Major League teams looking for pitching knew entering the 2014 Trade Deadline that there would be several quality pitchers available. Unfortunately for them, two such arms are now off the board. The Oakland Athletics struck first as they traded top prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney along with right-hander Dan Straily to the Chicago Cubs for both Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel. Many people thought that both Samardzija and Hammel would be traded, but few had any idea that they would be involved in the same deal and off the market so early in the trade season. Now, suddenly, David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays is easily the best pitcher available–unless the Boston Red Sox try to market Jon Lester–and any suitor for a frontline pitcher has to look towards him. In addition, some teams that would have targeted Hammel now see him off the board and may be more motivated to pursue Price. If David Price wasn’t drawing enough trade interest already, the Rays will have their hands even more full now as they field trade issues. The issue, though, is that the Rays are not 100% committed to trading him.
By the end of July, the Tampa Bay Rays could be firmly out of the AL East race. For now, however, they are playing well and giving their comeback from their earlier struggles every once of effort they have. Since June 11th, the Rays are an AL East-best 14-8, including eight wins in their last 10 games. They still sit 9 games back in the AL East entering Saturday’s games, but they have gained 6 games in the last 24 days and can’t be counted out yet in one of baseball’s weakest divisions. That does not necessarily mean that the Rays are going to hold onto David Price, but they can be picky once again as they wait for the right offer. As they decide whether they accept any potential package, they have to be asking themselves a question: would dealing Price end their hopes of a postseason berth?
The Rays’ rotation will undoubtedly be weaker without David Price. However, the Rays have to be optimistic about the direction of their other starting pitchers. Erik Bedard has been struggling, but Jeremy Hellickson is finally ready to return to the rotation to replace him. Alex Cobb has been inconsistent in his last few starts, but the Rays have to think that it’s only a matter of time until he regains his form. If that happens, he could potentially an ace-type pitcher in his own right. Chris Archer, meanwhile, has been great nearly the entire season, and Jake Odorizzi has been dominant since the middle of May. Replacing Price himself would be tough, but the Rays don’t need to find an ace. If Cobb can move to the first spot in the rotation, Archer to the second, Odorizzi to the third, and Hellickson to the fourth, then all the Rays need is a solid fifth starter. There are undoubtedly questions within that–is Cobb actually as good as he was last season?–but that top four has the ability to be scary for opponents nonetheless. Then, for the final spot, the Rays have internal options like Alex Colome, Matt Andriese, and Mike Montgomery. Throwing a rookie into a pennant race isn’t ideal, but between those three pitchers, we have to think that the Rays could make it work. The Rays are better with David Price starting every fifth day, but they are certainly not a lost cause if he is dealt.
There may be a gray area where the Rays would consider holding onto David Price now when they would not have before. They are finally heading in the right direction, and their asking price for their ace has to be higher because of that. However, they are not going to sacrifice a chance for another major trade haul just because they are playing better. If the Rays get the type of offer they are looking for, David Price will be wearing another uniform in a few weeks. We said last offseason that the Rays would still be a threat to win the AL East if David Price was elsewhere, and that is still true now.