The large type headline in the Tampa Bay Times sports section today was TRADE HIM. In a feature article, sports writer Tom Jones laid out all the reasons David Price had to be traded and sooner rather than later. Most of them concerned getting a healthy return of young talent to fuel the Rays in the future. However, he also hit on what I think is the most important reason the Rays moved Price: he cost too much money and he doesn’t bring in enough revenue to compensate.
The first part of the argument is obvious. Price would have cost the Rays at least $20 million dollars in salary next year. He makes over $14 million this year, and after his strong season, he is going to get a significant raise. Twenty million dollars is 25% of this year’s salary budget and not even the New York Yankees can devote a quarter of their budget to one player. Sure, they could defer a chunk of money, but that is a fool’s game for a small market team. The numbers just don’t work.
Price is a major loss for the Rays, but the Rays may actually be a better team in 2015 without him. The Rays have plenty of pitching depth–especially with Matt Moore set to return–and now they can devote some portion of the money they would have given Price to their more dire need: offense. They also have several players who will receive raises in arbitration, and now it will be easier to pay all of them as well. As great as Price is, the Rays will appreciate having that $20 million to play around with, and no one in baseball can use that much money as well as the Rays.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, is that a player like Price does not draw fans to Tropicana Field. The team is dead last in attendance drawing an average of 17,000 fans a game. Yesterday, in Price’s last game, there were 23,000 fans in attendance. That is not a bad number until you factor in that 9,000 were local summer camp kids who would have been at the game if some A-ball guy was pitching. Take out the 9,000 and you have a crowd of 14,000. Part of the reason a team like the Yankees will pay an aging Derek Jeter an outrageous salary is that stars bring people to baseball games in New York. Not so in Tampa Bay. The Rays do have plenty of fans and the team is the talk of the town. The perception that the Rays have no supporters is wrong. Fans would just rather sit in front of their fifty-inch screen with an $8 six-pack of beer than pay $50 for a seat at the Trop with an $8 cup of beer, especially when you have to drive for hours to get there. Keeping David Price is not going to change that fact.
You could make a point that the Rays kept Carl Crawford until the end and only got a draft choice in return, so why not keep Price? In that situation, however, Crawford was the face of the rebuilt Rays and there was still hope that a yearly playoff contender would increase attendance. Unfortunately, that never happened, adjusting the Rays’ perspective in regards to Price.
It’s sad that fans can’t root for their favorites in the same uniform for their playing career. David Price was a class guy in the clubhouse and in the community plus a stellar performer on the field. Rays fans will most certainly miss him. But baseball has created this cruel caste system of have’s and have not’s and the Rays are on the bottom end of the have not’s. So, if you are a Rays fan, enjoy Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Matt Moore as long as you can because eventually they will move on as well.