We all know that David Price is a likely candidate to be traded this offseason. The Rays haven’t said anything officially, nor should they have, and as a team that plays its plans relatively close to the vest, I wouldn’t expect them to. They have him under contract for two more seasons, and while the Rays’ M.O. has been to trade the stars they haven’t been able to lock up on team-friendly extensions as soon as they begin to get expensive, they’re certainly not forced to do so. They could easily hold onto Price again this year and take one more shot with him before trading him.
But the most likely scenario is that Price is traded this winter. It fits with the way the Rays operate and there will certainly be a market for his services. The Rays will be have a chance to deal from a position of strength (pitching depth) in order to rebuild their diminishing farm system, much as they did last year when they dealt James Shields. With that deal as a basis, we can speculate on which teams have both a need for Price and the assets to meet the Rays’ needs.
The Rays traded Shields with two seasons of control remaining as well and landed a package that centered on top prospect Wil Myers and included a number of other viable prospect options. Price is even better than Shields, so a Myers-esque prospect is, at the very least, a starting point for any trade talks. That alone rules out about half the teams.
The Rays are going to want a centerpiece in return for Price and a number of other players. It would help if that centerpiece player were nearly major league ready, as Myers was. I think it’s safe to assume that the Rays won’t deal Price to teams in the AL East, so I’ll rule them out, and any team making a move for Price would have to feel it could contend within the next two years.
Everybody needs pitching, but teams like the Tigers, Reds and Cardinals probably aren’t going to give up much to reinforce something that’s already a strength (not that the Tigers have enough to get a deal done anyway). A contender like Oakland isn’t in the market for taking on salaries any more than are the Rays. Still others like the Angels or the Braves don’t have the prospects to get a deal done. It doesn’t leave the Rays with a ton of options. But it only takes one. Possibilities:
Rangers: Texas seems to be in the discussion for virtually every big name on either the free agent or trade market, and a 1-2 punch of Yu Darvish and Price would put the Rangers’ duo up there with Justin Verlander/Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw/Zack Greinke as the best in the game.
But let’s face it, any discussion with the Rays begins and ends with Jurickson Profar. The Rangers have plenty of additional prospects to offer, like Jorge Alfaro and Rounged Odor, but the Rays need a shortstop and likely won’t even listen if Profar isn’t involved. The ball will be in the Rangers’ court on this one.
Indians: The Indians could really use an ace. They have some quality pitchers, but being able to put one stud atop their rotation would set them apart from the middling teams that they beat out for the Wild Card this season. Even more so than the Rangers, the Indians have one prospect who likely has to be involved. There’s no way the Rays even listen to the Indians unless Francisco Lindor is in the discussion.
The rest of the Indians’ system is pretty weak. Lindor is good enough to get the Rays to listen even without a lot of extra help, but the Indians are unlikely to part with their future shortstop for two years of Price.
Phillies: The Phillies are on a list of contenders who might want Price only because, by the definition we’re using for this trade, a team doesn’t actually have to be a contender—it must only believe it is a contender, and every statement and move Ruben Amaro Jr. has made over the past 12 months suggests that he’s in line with that delusion. The Phillies don’t have a ton of talent to trade, but Jesse Biddle and Maikel Franco would be a good start.
Neither has Myers’ ceiling, but collectively they’re better than the top two guys in last year’s deal. It would completely strip the Phillies farm system, prevent them from getting younger and further hamstring their payroll, but you can’t rule out Ruben when it comes to making a splash, no matter how misguided.
Nationals: The Nationals don’t need Price, but man, would that be inciting. Unfortunately, the Nats system is pretty weak and any move would likely require 2013 rookie Anthony Rendon, among others. GM Mike Rizzo probably doesn’t want to make that move, and even if he did, the prospects to go along with Rendon might still not be enough to get it done.
Pirates: Now we’re cooking. The Pirates are ready to contend, may be losing A.J. Burnett, and have more than enough prospects in their farm system to get a deal done without depleting themselves. The question is, do they want to?
I would say no, because they feel they have a good foundation in place to compete for the rest of the decade rather than taking two shots at things with Price, but it sure would energize the fan base and send a signal to the Cardinals. Of course, sending signals to division opponents is a really dumb way to make organization-altering decisions, so I doubt that will play a role. The point here is that the Pirates have the need, are ready to compete and have the prospects. They are perhaps the best fit for the Rays, but they are more likely to stick to their long-term plan than try to speed up their timetable, and should be commended for that if that is in fact their plan.
Dodgers: The Dodgers won’t be scared off by the adding Price’s salary and may be the one team prepared to offer him a contract extension as soon as they acquire him. They have little use for prospects; they continue to raid Cuba for its best talent and have a veteran-laden lineup. They continue to try to make splashes, and teaming Price with Kershaw and Greinke would make them virtually unstoppable.
But do they have the prospects? Don’t even think about including Yasiel Puig in this discussion. That’s not going to happen. But Joc Pederson is a good place to start, as is Corey Seager. Neither is a definite star, and Seager is still far from the majors, but both are solid prospects and likely future major league starters. That’s what the Rays are looking for. The Dodgers can also include pitching prospect Zach Lee who fits the Rays mold as an athletic innings-eater and could flourish in their fastball-throwing philosophy.
The key for the Dodgers could be Andre Ethier. Eithier has gotten a bad rap because he has a terrible contract. We tend to underestimate a player’s talent when he has a bad contract, but even though Eithter will not live up to the $71 million the Dodgers owe him over the next four years, it doesn’t mean he’s worthless as a player.
He is, however, the odd man out in an overcrowded Dodgers outfield. The Rays can’t afford to take on Eithier’s salary, but the Dodgers can afford to pay players to play for other teams if it means being able to land a player like David Price. It’s one of the luxuries of ignoring the luxury tax and working with virtually unlimited resources.
Eithier can still play. He can’t hit lefties, but the Rays are good at putting players in the best situations to succeed. If the Dodgers are willing to take on most or all of Eithier’s salary (something that would be unthinkable to almost any other organization), the Rays would be getting the immediate upgrade to their offense that they wouldn’t be getting from the Dodgers package of prospects that still needs developmental time. The Rays would get a solid bat to add to the middle of their lineup as well as a solid core of prospects for the future while the Dodgers get to add to their fantasy team.
If the Rays just want young prospects, then the Dodgers may not have the guys to get a deal done, but the Rays have shown a willingness to get creative with moves in the past and might be willing to listen to the Dodgers if they could land a major league player like Eithier. Otherwise, the options for the Rays may be more limited than they were this time last year when they were looking to deal Shields.
Anything can happen. We can’t really rule any team out just because it has plenty of pitching when we’re talking about a Cy Young winner like Price. But realistically, there aren’t a lot of teams that have both the need for Price, the prospects to get him, and the timing to go for it. If the Rangers aren’t willing to trade Profar, then the Dodgers may be the best option for the Rays to remain competitive while parting ways with their second ace in as many years.