Lefty ace David Price now has an American League Cy Young award to put on his mantelpiece. Once it's on there, he can look forward to a riveting season with...
...The Texas Rangers?
It just might happen.
By which I mean some guy in the know suggested pretty strongly that it could happen.
Not long after Price was awarded the AL Cy Young on Wednesday after going 20-5 with a league-best 2.56 ERA in 2012, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com took a moment to ponder the Tampa Bay Rays ace's future.
Eventually, this passage popped up:
Some Rays people have even identified the Rangers as the team that could provide them with the biggest return in the areas they need most. What if the Rangers, always in search of a true No. 1 starter, offered young shortstop Jurickson Profar, a young pitcher like Martin Perez and an outfielder (perhaps David Murphy)?
I don't know that the Rangers would do it. I do know that when they said they wouldn't trade either Profar or Elvis Andrus for Justin Upton, Rangers people suggested that they could be more open to moving a shortstop if a true No. 1 starter was the prize they got back.
OK, first of all, why on earth should the Rays even consider trading Price at this point? He's fresh off a Cy Young season and he has a record of 51-24 and a 2.93 ERA over the last three seasons, so why shouldn't he just, you know, stay?
Simple: The Rays are poor and Price is getting expensive.
Price made $4.35 million in 2012, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, and he stands to get considerably more expensive with arbitration coming up. Even if the Rays keep him through arbitration, they'll have to eventually give him a contract worth well over $20 million per year in order to retain him long term, and they can't afford to throw that kind of money around.
The sooner the Rays trade Price, the more they'll be able to get for him. He's a true ace pitcher, for one, and the three years of arbitration eligibility he has left make his value all the more higher.
As for how the Rangers factor into this, whether or not they would prefer Price over Upton enough to hand over Andrus or Profar is truly a fascinating question.
Upton is under contract through 2015 and will become a free agent in 2016. Price is under team control through 2015, and will also become a free agent in 2016. So in terms of controllability, there is no difference between Upton and Price.
As such, the Rangers could make this decision based entirely on who they think is better: Upton or Price?
I'd wager that Upton has the talent to be a more valuable player than Price, but he's not a more attractive option than Price at this point in their respective careers. Upton has had two very good years sandwiched around two disappointing years over the last four seasons, whereas Price has been as consistent as they come for three years in a row.
Price was brilliant for the first time in the 2010 season, going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA. However, he's pitched considerably better in the last two seasons, and he's been uncannily consistent.
Per FanGraphs, Price increased his K/9 from 8.11 in 2010 to 8.75 in 2011, and he held steady at 8.74 in 2012. His BB/9, meanwhile, went from 3.41 in 2010 to 2.53 in 2011 to 2.52 in 2012. His BABIP was .281 in 2011, and .285 in 2012.
Elsewhere, both Price's FIP and his xFIP have declined each of the last three years, with his FIP bottoming out at 3.05 and his xFIP bottoming out at 3.12 this season. He ranked among the top five in the American League in both categories.
Price is already really good. The indication with these numbers is that he's getting even better, which is something that cannot be said of Upton after the hugely disappointing season he just had (.785 OPS and 107 OPS+).
If the Rangers are going to trade one of their ace young shortstops—Andrus would be my pick for the sacrifice—they should do a deal for Price before they do a deal for Upton. Hands down.
It helps that the very identity of the Rangers seems to be changing in a way in which Price would only be more welcome. They may not be an offensive powerhouse for much longer, especially if Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli leave as free agents.
And the more you hear, the more it sounds like both of them have played their last games in Rangers uniforms. The word from John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus is that Hamilton wants a seven-year deal worth $175 million, and it's been reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today that the Rangers are only willing to give him a three-year deal.
Napoli, who posted a 1.046 OPS and hit 30 homers in only 113 games in 2011, was not given a qualifying offer by the Rangers. He recently told ESPNDallas.com that he's drawing interest from a "bunch of teams," one of which is the Boston Red Sox.
If the Rangers lose both Hamilton and Napoli to free agency, they'll be saving themselves a ton of money that they can commit elsewhere. That's the good news.
The bad news is that they'll be losing two guys who combined to hit 122 home runs in 2011 and 2012. That production is not so easily replaced.
It can, however, be accounted for in other ways. For example, when offense goes out the door, one thing you can do to combat the effects is bring in more pitching.
Price would become the ace of the Rangers' starting pitching staff by default, and the rotation he'd be joining would immediately become one of the best in baseball.
Behind Price would be Yu Darvish, who rated much better this season in terms of his sabermetrics than he did with traditional stats like wins and ERA. Thanks in large part to his elevated strikeout rate, Darvish wrapped up his first season with a 3.29 FIP and 3.52 xFIP, and he actually finished with the exact same fWAR as Price.
There are reasons to have high hopes for Darvish in 2013. His stuff was just as filthy in the majors as it was in Japan, and he finished the season by posting a 2.35 ERA over his last eight starts after he simplified his repertoire and harnessed his control.
Behind Darvish in this theoretical rotation would be Matt Harrison, who I think is one of baseball's more underrated pitchers. He wasn't as good in 2012 as his 18 wins suggest, but his 3.29 ERA, 4.03 FIP and 4.13 xFIP would do very nicely for a No. 3 starter if he were to post those numbers all over again in 2013.
Behind Harrison would be Derek Holland. He wasn't very good in 2012, but he was unhealthy for much of the year. With better health in 2013, he should be able to return to where he was in 2011, when he went 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA and four complete-game shutouts. Numbers like those would do marvelously for a No. 4 starter.
With four such starters lined up, the Rangers could count on drastically improving on the 4.30 ERA their starters posted in 2012, which ranked towards the bottom of the barrel among MLB's 30 clubs. They could ride their starting rotation much like the Rays or the Cincinnati Reds rode theirs, something that all teams should aspire to.
The Rangers will surely be missing some offense in 2013 if they lose Hamilton and Napoli to free agency, but it will matter little if they add Price. Their runs scored would go down, but Price would help them send their runs allowed in the same direction. Their run differential of 101 from 2012 could end up staying pretty consistent due to the strength of the team's starting rotation.
An improved starting rotation with Price leading the way would thus allow the Rangers to keep competing in the AL West, and they'd be well-equipped to take on their two biggest challengers in the division. They'd have the arms to neutralize an Angels team that quietly became heavily reliant on its bats in 2012, and their arms could also neutralize Oakland's powerful bats. The A's would also lose the clear pitching edge that they had on the Rangers in 2012.
And of course, an excellent starting rotation can work wonders in the postseason as well. We just saw the Detroit Tigers steamroll their way to the World Series on the strength of their pitching, and that wasn't much of a surprise seeing as how Detroit's rotation had a higher combined fWAR than any other rotation in baseball in 2012.
The San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, won the World Series after they saw their rotation manage a 3.73 ERA (sixth-best in baseball) in the regular season even despite consistently awful performances from one-time ace Tim Lincecum.
The Rangers could succeed where these teams succeeded, and having Price around to match up with other teams' aces would surely help. He could go toe-to-toe with Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver, Chris Sale, Josh Johnson, Brett Anderson or any of the American League's top aces.
Trusting pitching above all else to get them far in the postseason would be a different look from the Rangers, but that's not a bad thing. They weren't able to win the World Series in 2010, 2011 or 2012 with an offense-first formula. In the meantime, they've seen the Giants win two World Series with a pitching-first formula and the Tigers get to the World Series with a pitching-first formula. Clearly, a change in direction wouldn't be such a bad idea.
Would the Rangers be the de facto favorite to win the World Series if they were to acquire Price?
Well, it's too early to make definitive calls seeing as how most teams around MLB are still in pieces, but I'd have to say no. Adding Price would make the Rangers significantly better, but the strongest teams on paper right now look like the Tigers, the Giants, the Washington Nationals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cincinnati Reds and even the new-look Toronto Blue Jays.
But if the Rangers do trade for Price, they'd at least have a clear direction to go in. They'd be putting one of baseball's best pitchers at the head of a very strong starting rotation, and they'd do so while (presumably) also clearing up the dilemma they have at shortstop.
Beyond that, Daniels could go for more of a defense-oriented look in terms of the club's starting lineup. David Murphy could start in left if he isn't part of the Price trade, with Craig Gentry in center field and Nelson Cruz in right field. On the infield, the Rangers would still have Adrian Beltre at third, the surviving shortstop, Ian Kinsler at second and a platoon of Mitch Moreland and Michael Young at first base.
That's a pretty good team. There'd be enough offense, and more than enough defense to support the team's new-look starting rotation.
I wouldn't anoint them as destined champs, but they'd feature much more prominently in the discussion than they do right now.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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