Understanding the David Price Trade: What Just Happened?


What a whirlwind of emotions that Tampa Bay Rays fans have experienced in the last 10 hours. It seemed certain that David Price would stay with the Tampa Bay Rays until suddenly we heard otherwise. Even then, Rays fans were cautiously optimistic to find out who the Rays would get. Then the David Price trade happened, a three-team deal with the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners, and everyone was left totally perplexed. Here was the full trade.

Tampa Bay Rays trade LHP David Price to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for LHP Drew Smyly and SS Willy Adames from the Tigers and INF Nick Franklin from the Seattle Mariners. Tigers also trade CF Austin Jackson to the Mariners as part of the deal.

The common refrain was “how did Andrew Friedman and the Rays get so little for David Price?” But is that really the case? Let’s discuss Price and the three players the Rays received to figure out exactly why they made this deal.

David Price is an incredible pitcher, and the return from any David Price trade was going to be unceasingly compared to what the Rays received for James Shields. However, there are two big things separating those deals aside from the fact that Price is a better pitcher than Shields by a decent margin: team control and cost. The Rays traded Shields when he had two entire years of team control remaining at $9 million and $13.5 million respectively. Price, meanwhile, will only be with the Tigers for the next two months and next season yet will make more money than Shields did by several million dollars. The money limited the potential suitors for Price by a wide margin, and the lesser time with his new team only hurt his value even more. That has to be accounted for before we compare this trade to the Shields deal. Even if the Rays didn’t quite get a Wil Myers-level talent from the Tigers, though, they received three players that captivate them to no end.

It isn’t too often that you can be a seller yet acquire a safe player with reasonable potential. However, that’s exactly what the Rays got in Drew Smyly. This season for the Tigers, Smyly is 6-9 with a 3.77 ERA, managing a 7.8 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 1.3 HR/9 in 100.1 innings pitched. Those are solid numbers, exactly what you would expect from a number three or four starter. There is reason to think, though, that Smyly is capable of more. Smyly features a good fastball in the low-90’s that he continues to command better, and he pairs it with two very good secondary pitches. His sharp high-70’s curveball is a plus pitch, and he pairs it with a mid-80’s slider/cutter that gives him a second swing-and-miss breaking ball. There is something missing, though: a changeup.

The Rays see a good starter in Smyly, but they see an opportunity to make him into a great one by having him learn from Alex Cobb and add a split-change to his repertoire. If he adds that offering to give him a strong four-pitch arsenal, he could become more of a number two-type starter. The best-case scenario is Smyly blossoming under the tutelage of Cobb and Jim Hickey and becoming another frontline pitcher while a realistic worse-case scenario is him becoming a dominant reliever like he was in 2013. The first scenario would make people wonder why Detroit ever traded Smyly while even the second is not so bad at all. He will likely end up somewhere in between as a strong major league starter that the Rays will control for the next three years after this one. Smyly will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter.

There is no team in baseball that is going to get more out of Nick Franklin than the Tampa Bay Rays. The 23 year old middle infielder was displaced by Robinson Cano as the Mariners’ second baseman and has wound up spending most of this season at Triple-A Tacoma, hitting to a .294/.392/.455 line in 333 plate appearances. Losing his starting keystone job may go down as a blessing in disguise for Franklin, however, because it forced him to adapt his game in a way that especially intrigued the Rays: he had to become a more versatile player. It was one thing for Franklin moving from shortstop to second base, but now he has experience at the corner outfield spots and third base as well. Franklin is already a solid defensive second baseman and a serviceable defender at shortstop, and he could become just as good or even better in the outfield and third base as well. Luckily for him, he will get to learn from a player who knows exactly what he’s going through: Ben Zobrist. Franklin may one day succeed Zobrist as the Rays’ starting second baseman, but for now, he will learn how to play a variety of positions from the master at doing so as he finds a way to make an impact on his new team.

Speaking of making an impact, Franklin has the ability to do so in a way that Zobrist can’t match thanks to his incredible raw power for a middle infielder. Even in an up-and-down rookie year last season, Franklin drilled 12 home runs in 412 plate appearances, and as he continues to adjust to major league pitching, his power will only come out more. Franklin may never be a high-average hitter, but he has the ability to get on base a good amount of the time once he translates his Triple-A plate discipline to the major leagues, and he will cement his value by hitting the ball with authority. The Rays look forward to honing that talent, and combining it with his versatility could make him an extremely valuable player in short order. Franklin isn’t set to be a free agent until after the 2019 season, so the Rays will be taking advantage of the value he provides for a long time.

Finally, we have the wild card of the trade, Willy Adames. The first number we have to look at for him is age. Adames is an 18 year old playing in the Low-A Midwest League, and he is the youngest regular in the circuit at 3.5 years younger the average age of league hitters. Despite that, he has put up impressive numbers, hitting to a .269/.346/.428 line with 14 doubles, 12 triples, 6 homers, and 50 RBI in 400 plate appearances.  If Adames simply tackles one level per year, he will crack the major leagues at 22 years old. But he has the ability to move faster. Adames has improved the mechanics of his quick swing to hit for more power, and he has the patience and pitch recognition to keep that up and even improve it at higher levels. Combine that with his defense–he features smooth hands, good range, and a strong arm–and Adames has a chance to be an excellent major league shortstop. It will take time and there is no guarantee of anything, but the Rays saw the opportunity a potential star right as he is coming together, and they believe that he will be worth the wait.

The Tampa Bay Rays executed this David Price trade for Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin, and Willy Adames because they see three talented players who will be in their uniform for a long time and are only beginning to harness their potential. Especially with Adames in the picture, it will take years to assess whether the Rays are making the right move. However, if this trio of players improves like the Rays believe they can, people will see this as one of Andrew Friedman’s greatest deals yet. He traded a season and two months of one great pitcher for three potential franchise cornerstones, two of whom can get there in short order.