In 2012, Price won the American League Cy Young Award after going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA and 205-59 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 211 innings (31 starts). As a result of his enormously successful campaign, the Rays elected to avoid arbitration and signed the 28-year-old to a one-year contract worth $10.1125 million prior to the 2013 season—a new record for a second-time arbitration-eligible pitcher, according to MLB Trade Rumors.
Though Price is under team control through the 2015 season, he’s entering his third year of arbitration this winter and is likely to stretch the cost-efficient Rays’ pockets thin should they choose to sign him to a long-term deal or try their luck in a court hearing.
Then, of course, there’s the third option: a trade.
Based on the Rays’ history of dealing front-line starting pitchers during the offseason, Price could very well be wearing a different uniform to open the 2014 season.
Prior to the 2011 season, the organization dealt Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs for a prospect-based package that included right-hander Chris Archer and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee.
Most recently, they traded James Shields to the Kansas City Royals following the 2012 season in exchange for another loaded prospect package highlighted by likely AL Rookie of the Year winner Wil Myers.
If you go from what's kind of been done in the past, I guess you're going to have to think you're going to get traded. That's kind of the way it's happened with this organization with pitchers when they get to this period of their career. We've seen it happen a couple of times already. And I don't know what's going to happen. But I know what's happened in the past.
While Garza and Shields both emerged as top-tier starting pitchers during their respective tenures in Tampa Bay, Price is in a league of his own when it comes to trade value—especially given the dearth of high-end starting pitching in this year’s free-agent class.
Considering what the Rays received in exchange for Garza and Shields, it’s scary to think about what some teams may offer for Price.
However, blowing up a farm system in order to acquire the 28-year-old isn’t necessarily a wise move—at least not this offseason.
Coming off his award-winning 2012 campaign, Price turned in arguably the worst season of his career this year.
Although the southpaw recorded 10 wins and a 3.33 ERA, he also spent roughly a month-and-a-half on the disabled list—the first DL stint of his career—with a left triceps injury. As a result, Price failed to eclipse the 200-inning plateau for the first time since joining the Rays starting rotation full time in 2009.
Price’s decrease in fastball velocity this past season presents another concern. In 2012, the left-hander averaged 95.5 mph with his four-seam fastball, according to FanGraphs. This season, he averaged 93.5 mph.
Furthermore, Price’s drop in fastball velocity this season impeded his ability to challenge hitters in the zone with the pitch as he did in previous years. Specifically, opposing hitters made contact 88.3 percent (per FanGraphs) of the time this season on pitches within the strike zone, which represents a considerable regression compared to 84.6 percent in 2010.
While both his stamina and steadily decreasing velocity are both legitimate concerns, Price has still solidified himself as a true No. 1 starter over the last five seasons.
For organizations hoping to contend for a World Series title in the immediate future, parting with a slew of top-ranked prospects in exchange for Price may be a healthy gamble—especially if they can lock him up with a new contract.
However, for teams geared toward long-term success, deciding to trade promising young talent for the 28-year-old left-hander has the potential to negatively impact the organization’s trajectory.