In the not-so-distant future, teams with elite prospects to spare and a need for a superstar player are going to have a decision to make:
David Price or Giancarlo Stanton?
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, this is already something of a prevailing question around Major League Baseball. He wrote in an ESPN Insider piece this week that the market for Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder, Justin Upton, may be developing so slowly because teams are aware that trading for him may kill their chances of trading for Price or Stanton when they hit the block.
And that does appear to be a matter of when, not if. League officials expect the Tampa Bay Rays to trade Price either this summer or next winter, as there's likely no hope of signing the lefty to one of their patented club-friendly extensions. The Miami Marlins, meanwhile, are already willing to listen to offers for Stanton and will surely move him before his earnings take a huge hike.
So when the time comes, who's going to be the hotter trade chip: Price or Stanton?
Why David Price Will Be Sought
In the last three years, David Price has compiled a 51-24 record, a 2.93 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP and pitched 644 innings. He finished second in the AL Cy Young voting in 2010, and first in 2012.
And he's still only 27 years old. In addition to youth, Price also has a track record of good health working for him. Since his first full season as a starter in 2010, he's been one of baseball's most consistent starters.
Essentially, Price is everything a team could possibly ask for in a No. 1 starting pitcher. That MLB is only becoming more of a pitching-oriented league makes him an especially attractive trade target.
He's just as attractive an option in the front-office game.
Price still has three years to go before he hits free agency after 2015. If the Rays fall out of the race and trade Price halfway through 2013, his new team will enjoy his services for two-and-a-half seasons. If the Rays wait until next winter, they'll still be able to market Price as a two-year rental.
That's too small of a window for teams that aren't quite ready to contend yet, but not for teams that will be looking to win now. Olney name-dropped the Texas Rangers as a possible player for Price, which is nothing new. Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com was peddling that idea way back in August.
It's possible that Price wouldn't be a mere two-year rental, as it's not unheard of for teams to approach star players about extensions when free agency is two years away:
The Cincinnati Reds locked up Joey Votto last spring. This winter, there's been talk of the Seattle Mariners extending Felix Hernandez, the Detroit Tigers extending Justin Verlander and the Los Angeles Dodgers extending Clayton Kershaw.
Price could just wait for free agency to come along in 2016, but he could be open to signing a market-value extension before an injury or something else were to rob him a chance to set himself up for life. He's also going to be 30 years old by the time the 2016 offseason rolls around, making him middle-aged by baseball standards.
Add it all up, and you get a true ace with some controllability who could be open to signing an extension. These things will be worth a major roll of the dice when Price hits the block.
Why Giancarlo Stanton Will Be Sought
In only three major league seasons, Giancarlo Stanton has hit 93 home runs and compiled a .270/.350/.553 slash line.
The scary part: Stanton is still only 23 years old and won't turn 24 until after next season is over. His career is off to a truly historic start, as only four players managed to hit more home runs than Stanton between the ages of 20 and 22.
Their names: Eddie Matthews, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Robinson and Mel Ott.
As impressive as the start of his career has been, Stanton still has untapped potential in his bat. He should be a perennial 50-home run player, something that's a true rarity in baseball today with the Steroid Era firmly in the rear-view mirror.
Naturally, Stanton's youth comes with controllability. He's not due to hit free agency until after 2016, and he's not even arbitration-eligible until after 2013.
That's probably when the Marlins will trade him, as their choice will be to either ship Stanton off for prospects or hold on to him and deal with what's going to be a significant pay raise.
This incoming pay raise will be a reality no matter where Stanton ends up next winter, but that's not going to stop clubs from selling the farm to get him in a trade. Clubs will spare no expense for three seasons of Stanton's power production, and they'll gladly accept his glove in right field as well.
Alas, it likely only would be three seasons. Stanton will be more willing to sign an extension with another club than he is to sign one with the Marlins, but that's only because he doesn't seem to have a bone in his body that wants to stay in Miami. He recently told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that he's still ticked off about the team's latest fire sale this winter.
Stanton is still going to be a few years south of 30 when he hits free agency after the 2016 season. So long as his health holds up between now and then, that would put him in line for a multi-year deal worth potentially $30 million per year.
That sounds absurd now, but baseball is headed in that direction. Many clubs have lucrative local TV deals, and the new national TV deals will provide clubs with even more cash to invest on the field.
The reality that Stanton probably wouldn't be signing an extension wouldn't stop interested parties in offering the farm for him. A contender with the right pieces already in place could do some major damage with Stanton on its side.
Between Price and Stanton, expect Stanton to be the more coveted trade target when the two of them find their way to the trade block.
There's admittedly a slight shred of doubt in my mind, as it's become obvious in the last three years that MLB is being turned back over to the pitchers. Whereas the league's general arms race used to be over who could acquire the most bats, now it's about who has the most pitching.
In a league such as this, pitchers like Price stand out as true superstars. Teams are going to view him as a ticket to a World Series victory.
But what Price will have going for him just isn't enough compared to what Stanton will have going for him. He's an excellent everyday player, and he's several years younger than Price with an extra year of controllability. At the rate he's progressing, Stanton may soon be one of the league's five best players.
Even in a league where pitching is king, a top-five offensive player is still more valuable than a top-five starting pitcher. Any team that trades for Stanton will get more bang for its buck, so to speak, than it otherwise would have if it traded for Price instead.
Now then, all these two have to do is actually hit the trade block. It won't be long now.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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