At the end of the 2013 season, speculation started that the small-market Rays more than likely would be swapping their ace left-hander, primarily because of his escalating salary and imminent free agency following 2015.
Heck, even Price himself made it clear that he was expecting to be traded back in October, right after the Rays were eliminated by the eventual champion Boston Red Sox in the division series, telling Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune, "If you go with what’s been done in the past I guess you’re going to have to think you’re going to get traded."
But in recent weeks, the chatter has died down and with it the expectation that Price is on his way out. He even avoided the arbitration process by agreeing Thursday with Tampa on a salary of $14 million for next season, per Adam Berry of MLB.com.
As for the possibility he could be wearing another uniform sooner rather than later, Price told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:
I think if I'm in camp [with the Rays], I would be on the team, because that would stink if I would be a part of the team in spring training and everybody thinks I'd be there along with them and then I get traded a couple days into spring or something like that. … Probably Feb. 1 would be a time period that I think would kind of let me know that I would be here.
That, of course, doesn't mean Price can't—or won't—be traded in the next two weeks or so.
The question, then, is when would the Rays get the most out of dealing the former Cy Young winner: Now, before the start of the season...or later, near the July trade deadline?
Simply, more time translates to more production value, which should equal a greater return.
In other words, trading Price prior to the 2014 season means the Rays should be able to ask for more because the acquiring team will get him for up to two full seasons, rather than a season-and-a-half. That might not seem like a huge difference, but it is.
That's especially true for a starting pitcher, who only goes to work maybe 32 or 33 times a year, so to speak. If Price were to be traded in mid- to late July—well past the actual midpoint of the 162-game schedule—he may only be able to impact up to 12 or 13 games.
It's also especially true because Price may very well decide not to sign a long-term extension with a new squad, choosing instead to test the free-agent market, which is a mighty appealing place for what would be a 30-year-old southpaw with a rather impressive resume.
At this very moment, any team that considers (or fancies) itself a contender could be willing to give up a premium package of young, cost-controlled players/prospects for two full years of Price, whose total salary is likely to be about $30 million over that time—a reasonable cost for a front-of-the-rotation arm these days.
But if a few of those contender-hopeful clubs don't perform up to expectations by midseason, they won't see the point in trading for Price. The market could be much more limited, which wouldn't be a good thing for Tampa.
There are two main reasons why later could be better for the Rays to consider peddling Price.
The first is that, well, they themselves are contenders, so trading away their top pitcher—no matter how expensive he is to fit into their already maxed out budget—mere weeks before the start of a season that could lead to another October opportunity seems like competitive suicide.
The other? There's still plenty of pitching available to be had. From free-agent starters like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza—not to mention, Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka—to trade targets like Jeff Samardzija and Homer Bailey, teams in need of pitching do have other options, should they so choose.
Beyond those, there's also the fact that interested parties might want to see how Price pitches and whether he's fully healthy over the first half of the season. Remember, he missed about six weeks last year due to an injury the Rays characterized as left triceps tendinitis.
Plus, the desperation factor can't be overlooked. During the middle of the summer, as performance and injury become issues and pennant races just begin heating up, needs will arise, pressure will mount and the now-or-never aspect of the July 31 trade deadline will loom large.
The one problem with all of this, of course, is that the Rays might not realistically be able to trade Price that late in the year if they are contending for a playoff spot or the AL East title themselves. How could they?
The Price Is Right—Now
Ultimately, if Tampa is going to move Price, the extra three or four months of production and value he can add to a new team should be enough to help the Rays get more in return now compared to later, even considering the potential fracas that could come from desperate clubs at the trade deadline.
Right now, though, the bigger issue is that there just doesn't seem to be much motivation for Tampa Bay to trade Price given the squad's status entering 2014.
Plus, unlike trying to trade him in July when there's an actual deadline that forces teams to get something done by a predetermined point in time—thus creating natural leverage—attempting to move Price now means it would be incumbent upon the Rays to create that kind of leverage themselves.
Certainly, this could be done by giving interested suitors a deadline of sorts and then allowing them to bid against each other for the right to get Price.
Maybe that's been the Rays' plan all along. Maybe they've just been waiting until Tanaka—the top target on the pitching market at the moment—is signed, sealed and delivered to a major league team by Jan. 24, the deadline for him to decide.
By then, even with the likes of Jimenez, Santana and Garza still out there for the paying, the Rays would be in a better position to bargain with the clubs fresh off losing out on the Japanese right-hander. After all, once the Tanaka domino falls, all the others will soon tip over, too.
The question, then, really isn't whether the Rays would get more by trading Price now or at the deadline, but whether they want to trade him at all this year.
If they do, then the Price is right—now.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.