For or against David Price trade? I want to look at the arguments to trade or not to trade Price and take a look at the assumptions governing both. I’m calling them doomsday scenarios because they both warn that a David Price trade portends great ill for the Tampa Bay Rays.
On the one hand, what I’m calling the “Chemist’s argument,” there’s the fact of the sensational run the Rays have been on recently. That, coupled with the haymaker-plus-figure-four-leg-lock that would be dealt to team chemistry, is sufficient reason for the team to hold off on any David Price trade.
On the other hand, the “Business model”, there’s the argument that the value acquired from a David Price trade will never be higher than it is now, and that the key to the Rays success historically has been dealing superstars for prospects. And so the Rays are jeopardizing their future for the sake of the (still) long-shot chance of securing a postseason berth and making a run at the World Series.
Since June 11, the Rays have the best record in baseball at 29-12 and much closer to .500 than they were a month ago. Of course, the issue isn’t whether they can get to .500 or not. What’s at stake in a David Price trade must be whether the Rays can make the playoffs and also be good enough to compete in the playoffs. If the Rays still have Price at the end of September, and they aren’t heading to the postseason, many would say that the Rays made a mistake.
There are some reasons to hold off on a potential trade and wait until the winter. Most teams would only execute a David Price trade for a white-whale-haul-of-prospects if Price agreed to a long-term extension, making it seem that Price’s “team control” will be basically the same in October or later as it is now. In addition, the Rays might entertain more suitors if they waited until the offseason, as even some of this year’s non-contenders might envision a World Series win with Price heading their rotation.
Another factor is that as the trade deadline has gotten closer, more teams have let down their guard and adopted a “seller” identity. So other quality pitchers (if not quite Price-caliber) have emerged recently on the trade block like Jon Lester, John Lackey, Justin Masterson, and Houston’s controllable staff. Of course, a pitcher like Lackey does not objectively have the same value as Price, but the matter of the return evens things out to an extent. The Seattle Mariners may think that they only really need a solid (not necessarily great) pitcher to advance in the playoffs and would be more willing to part with pieces for Lackey than the more coveted pieces that would be involved in a trade for Price. So, the Chemists would argue, it is not necessarily true that the market as it is now represents the best opportunity for making a trade.
However, the loss of these last two months of team control would be critical to a team like the Mariners, with whom Price is unlikely to sign an extension, and the exigency supplied by the trade deadline provides greater incentive than the depressurized atmosphere of the offseason. Teams permit themselves to act on short-term goals (even to the detriment of their long-term plans) when they are in the hunt for the playoffs. Even if the Rays fail to get the white-whale package of prospects for Price if they marketed him now, they could very well get less following the season given Price’s lesser team control and the more rational, long-term mindset that comes with the offseason.
Still, David Price seems a core part of making a legendary run. Even if the Rays receive a lesser offseason package, the thrill of the playoff berth and the shot at a championship might make it worthwhile. It is a sobering reminder, however, that in spite of the Rays great run, they have improved their odds to make the playoffs to a mighty (drumroll) 14.2% according to Baseball Prospectus. There is no guarantee of anything even if Price stays around.
Those Business-Model thinkers will remind us that the Rays are still 7.0 games behind Baltimore with three teams in their way. In the Wild Card race, the Rays sit only 4.5 games back, but they would have to pass Toronto, New York, Seattle, Kansas City, and Cleveland. Even if they pulled that off, the Angels are running away with the first Wild Card spot, so the Rays would only be guaranteed a one-game playoff in Anaheim. Would losing a one-game playoff in Anaheim be enough to remedy the lack in prospects acquired?
Price won’t be traded, but I hope that I’m wrong about that. The Chemist’s argument that this team deserves a chance is largely just sentimentality, and it ignores the reality of the dreadful first months of the season. It takes two to tango, so I hope these hectic hours before the deadline spur on some heat-of-the-moment thinking and the Rays get the offer they’re looking for. While it will be difficult, the Rays must act on it when it comes.