While a handful of high-profile transactions have already come and gone this offseason, a potential deal involving Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price has simmered quietly in the shadows. Indeed, the Price storyline has mostly been a slow burn, cropping up in reports occasionally but never really coming into focus.
You won't want to hear this if you're clamoring for another blockbuster swap, but the Price saga could take as much as another two years to play out. Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner, is under team control through the 2015 season, and though the Rays are wise to explore trading him now in hopes of maximizing the return, they don't have to move him.
That being said, the Rays have been at this crossroads with a homegrown star pitcher before. They traded James Shields to the Kansas City Royals last offseason, two years before he was eligible for free agency. The return? A package of prospects headlined by 2013 AL Rookie of the Year winner Wil Myers. So, there's something of a precedent here, both in terms of the timing and what Tampa Bay will probably want back.
The question is, then, which teams are the best fits for Price, and what would they have to give up to get him?
The Seattle Mariners acquired the best available position player this offseason in signing second baseman Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract. Will they follow it up by landing the best available pitcher?
Many league officials believe the Mariners are a strong candidate to win the Price sweepstakes, Yahoo's Jeff Passan reported last month. Passan noted that the M's have considered offering blue-chip pitching prospect Taijuan Walker as part of a package for Price, although Jon Heyman of CBS Sports later reported that Seattle appears to consider Walker untouchable.
Walker, a right-hander who turns 22 in August, showed up in virtually every notable prospect rankings I read prior to last season, usually in the top 20. Baseball America had him at No. 18, ESPN's Keith Law at No. 9 (subscription required) and MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo at No. 4.
Clearly, Walker is well-regarded, so it makes sense that he would come up in these reports. Passan speculated that Walker, perhaps along with infielders Nick Franklin or Brad Miller, would be the foundation of a potential M's-Rays swap. Franklin or Miller, both middle infielders, might be expendable now that Cano is in the mix.
While the Mariners made a bold move by signing Cano in the first place, that alone might not be enough to push them back into contention—but acquiring Price could do the trick. Can they pull it off without offering Walker, and, if not, will they up the ante?
The Los Angeles Dodgers already have a nice rotation in place for next season, but apparently they're willing to add reinforcements, as they made the Rays aware of their interest in Price at last month's winter meetings, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Dodgers appear to be an ideal landing spot for Price. They're a win-now team, so Price's immediate impact would be especially valuable, and, of course, they've shown in recent years that they will pony up for pricey stars, so, presumably, they would have the wherewithal to extend Price, ensuring that he's not merely a rental.
Whether the Dodgers can actually pull off the deal, however, is a different matter. Hernandez surmised that their relatively depleted farm could be an obstacle, noting their best prospects are teenagers—19-year-old infielder Corey Seager and 17-year-old left-hander Julio Arias.
That doesn't jibe with the return for Shields, a package headlined by a major league-ready phenom in Myers. Not to mention, the Dodgers themselves are hesitant to further mine from an already weak system.
No Dodgers prospect made ESPN scout Keith Law's midseason top 50 list last year (subscription required), although right-handed starter Zach Lee was included as an honorable mention. To Hernandez's point, the Dodgers may not have the kind of blue-chipper Tampa Bay covets.
Price makes sense for the Dodgers, and they appear to be interested; the question is whether it's mutual.
The Texas Rangers have retooled in a big way this offseason, trading for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo, and they might not be done yet. Texas has long been considered among the top contenders to get in on Price, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported last month.
However, to land Price, Texas might have to trade from its projected every-day lineup. According to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, the Rangers "would have to understand that they can't keep Jurickson Profar and make this deal." Profar, a highly touted second baseman, is likely to be manning the keystone for the Rangers on Opening Day now that Ian Kinsler has been shipped off to Detroit.
Is that too steep of a price for the Rangers? In terms of the talent changing hands, I'd say it's actually fair, but that doesn't mean it would make much sense for Texas in the context of how its roster is constructed.
Without a viable second baseman to replace Profar (journeyman Adam Rosales is currently the Rangers' utility infielder), trading him for Price would basically amount to filling a hole by creating another, and it might actually leave them in worse standing.
I wouldn't entirely rule out the Rangers as a potential landing spot for Price, but if they're not willing to move Profar, they may not have the chips to get a deal done. If they still want a starting pitcher, the more sensible route for them would be free agency, and, indeed, they figure to be among the most aggressive suitors for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported last week.
But the Rangers will likely have plenty of competition for Tanaka—and they may have to pivot back to the trade market, for Price, if they whiff on him.
The Arizona Diamondbacks overhauled the long-term outlook of their rotation this offseason by dealing young lefty Tyler Skaggs, but they may not be done tweaking it yet, as the Snakes have made it their top priority to sign Tanaka, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported last week.
Apparently, the Diamondbacks and Rays engaged in talks about Price at some point, as Rosenthal also reported that Arizona found the asking price for Price to be too high, and thus it prefers to find a starter via free agency.
The Diamondbacks had a surplus of promising, young, cost-controlled players to trade, and they did, flipping Skaggs and Adam Eaton in the deal that brought them back Mark Trumbo and sending Matt Davidson to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Addison Reed. Does that mean they no longer have the chips to bring back Price even if they wanted to? Not necessarily.
Arizona is still sitting on pitching prospect Archie Bradley, who, like the Mariners' Walker, is consistently ranked among the game's top prospects. Bradley isn't far off from the majors, having pitched most of last season in Double-A, although he won't even turn 22 until August.
It seems probable that the Rays would give serious consideration to a package built around Bradley, so the better question might be this: Would Arizona trade him?
We might have to see how the Tanaka bidding shakes out first. The Diamondbacks are in win-now mode and could see a front-office shakeup if they don't win in 2014, Buster Olney of ESPN reported last week (subscription required). So, my guess is that they might become desperate and circle back to the Rays on Price if they miss out on Tanaka.
There's little doubt that the majority of teams would check in with the Rays on the Price, but as we've seen throughout this piece, several factors would probably have to be in place for a deal to get done. To that end, a few of the teams that Stark mentioned as suitors now look like long shots.
The Los Angeles Angels have since retooled their rotation, acquiring Skaggs from the Diamondbacks and Hector Santiago from the Chicago White Sox.
Their farm system seems to be short on blue-chip prospects, so unless they turn around and package Skaggs and perhaps Santiago for Price, I'm not sure if they have the pieces that would interest the Rays. Skaggs himself may not be enough, as his star has dimmed some after a rocky 2013.
The Toronto Blue Jays were not hot on the idea of trading top pitching prospects Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted last month. That's understandable, and I would also guess that the Rays would prefer to deal Price out of the AL East so they don't have to face him for the next two years and perhaps beyond.
The Chicago Cubs are rebuilding, and though they might have the prospects to complete a deal, trading for Price now would pretty much undercut the work they've done over the past few years to build a core of young talent under the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime, as Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com noted last month.
The asking price for Price is apparently quite high, as are the stakes, and unless a deal makes a lot of sense for both sides, this story might be put on hold until the trade deadline in July—and beyond.