David Price might not be 100 percent sure where he's playing baseball in 2014, but he does know how much he will make. The Tampa Bay Rays announced Jan. 16 that they and Price have agreed to a one-year, $14 million deal to avoid arbitration:
The deal, originally reported by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, allows both sides to walk away relatively happy. Arbitration judges are only allowed to decide between a player's demand and the team's offer in hearings, so oftentimes both sides work with one another to find an amenable middle ground.
Topkin provides Price's take on the contract:
#Rays Price on conference call: "I have the same mindset: I think I'm going to be a Ray ... This is a good time and I'm happy.'— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) January 16, 2014
Price thinks once he gets to camp he would no longer be traded this yr, maybe even after Feb. 1. Basically week after Tanaka deadline. #Rays— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) January 16, 2014
This is the second straight season Price and the Rays have avoided arbitration. Price signed a one-year contract worth just over $10 million last January, and this marks a substantial raise over that sum—though not nearly as much as he would receive on the open market.
The Rays still hold Price's rights for one more season after 2014, meaning he will be arbitration-eligible again next winter. That, of course, assumes that Price is still on the roster next winter.
While signing this deal keeps Price property of Tampa Bay, it in no way prevents the club from shopping him on the open market. Price's $14 million salary is still well below the mark typically paid to players of his caliber—as evidenced by Clayton Kershaw's record-setting extension with the Dodgers—so avoiding arbitration makes him no more or less an attractive trade piece.
Price, who along with Evan Longoria has been a cornerstone of the Rays' surge toward yearly contention, has been the subject of trade rumors almost all winter. Despite its success, Tampa Bay is still a small-market club that cannot allow one player's salary to stifle other moves, and general manager Andrew Friedman has done an excellent job at cutting bait at the right time.
Friedman landed 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers in a trade with the Royals for James Shields last winter, as well as fellow contender Chris Archer in a deal with the Cubs in 2011. Price is widely expected to be the next domino to fall—whether that be this winter, next winter or in either of the next two seasons.
Speaking last month, Rays manager Joe Maddon seemed resigned that Price would eventually head elsewhere, per ESPN's Jayson Stark:
What I've heard is, obviously, what everybody else is hearing. There is a lot of conjecture and talk about it. When you lose a player of that magnitude, not just the fact that he's such a good pitcher, but this guy ... matters a lot to the clubhouse and to the team. (But) having said all those things ... this is how we have to operate within our little world.
Given the success Price, 28, has had in Tampa, though, Friedman has obviously set the bar high in negotiations. The 2012 AL Cy Young winner, Price is the club's all-time leader in ERA (3.19) and ranks only behind Shields on the all-time wins list with 71.
Even though Price's strikeout rate has dropped in each of the last three seasons, he's still one of the more consistent and reliable aces in baseball. Price has also shown ridiculous control as he reaches his peak, setting a career-best 1.30 walks per nine innings in 2013.
All that accounted for, one could easily see why the Rays are so reluctant to part ways. But as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports noted, it will be awfully tough for even a team as fiscally responsible as the Rays to compete with Price's salary jamming up the books:
With Price locked in at $14M for 2014, #Rays’ payroll likely would be in $70M range if they kept him. Do not believe any team has reached…— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 16, 2014
…post-season with one player eating up that large a percentage of payroll - about 20 percent.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 16, 2014
Tampa Bay made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons but competes in the hyper-competitive AL East. With the Red Sox coming off a World Series title and the Yankees splurging to get back in contention, Price's contract could prevent the team from making necessary improvements.
So while the news of the day is that Price has signed, this situation is far from over.
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