Six weeks and one day—that's how long Tampa Bay has to decide what the immediate future holds for David Price. Will the Rays trade the ace of their rotation, or will the fiscally challenged franchise wait until after the season (or until around this time next year) to make the inevitable move?
Six months ago, we were asking the same question.
Unquestionably one of the game's premier talents, Price is a legitimate game changer, a player capable of transforming a contender into a favorite. There isn't a team in baseball that wouldn't be significantly improved by adding Price to its rotation.
Tampa Bay knows that it's a better team with Price than without him, but the Rays have dug themselves into a hole in the standings that history (and ESPN's David Schoenfield) tells us is nearly impossible to climb out of.
That hole is why more than a few people, including MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince, believe the Rays should already be shopping the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner.
While there's something to be said for holding out until you get what you want, the reality is that a year and a half of Price is worth more than a year or half-year of him down the road. His value, right now, is higher than it's going to be after the season or at next year's trade deadline.
With more than half of baseball still considering itself a contender and a shortage of quality arms on the market—only the Chicago Cubs have begun shopping starters: Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija, specifically, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer—now may be the time for the Rays to make a deal.
That said, teams seem to be valuing impact bats over impact arms these days, which can make facilitating a trade, even for a pitcher as good as Price, more difficult than it has been in the past.
Now, can we seriously consider more than half of baseball viable candidates to land Price?
Of course not. Which begs the question: What are the prerequisites for a team to be a legitimate suitor for Price?
- Must be a contender: It makes little sense for a non-contender to move multiple prospects for one year of Price.
- Must have a strong farm system: Tampa Bay isn't going to accept a package of pseudo-prospects or B-level talent in exchange for one of the game's premier starting pitchers.
- Should be financially sound: Whether Price signs an extension with an acquiring team is largely irrelevant for our purposes, but a team that can't afford him for the long-term isn't likely to deal.
So...what do the Rays want?
Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer reported in December that the Rays asked Cleveland for a package that started with catcher/first baseman/third baseman Carlos Santana and starting pitcher Danny Salazar, reportedly asking about top shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor as well.
That's an insane asking price, and no matter how desperate a team may be, there isn't a GM in the game who would make such a deal.
Heyman indicated that the Rays were looking for a package similar to what they got from Kansas City before the 2013 season in exchange for Wade Davis and James Shields. That four-player package included a top hitting prospect (2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers) and a top pitching prospect (Jake Odorizzi).
Which teams meet those requirements and can make a similar offer for Price? The list isn't quite as long as you'd imagine.
Most Likely Suitors
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Package: RHP Yimi Garcia, CF Joc Pederson, LHP Chris Reed
Do the Dodgers need David Price? No, they don't.
But they had interest over the winter, with Bruce Levine, formerly of ESPN Chicago, at one point tweeting that the two teams were "matching up" on a potential deal.
Besides, a rotation going forward of Price, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and either Josh Beckett or Dan Haren would be downright entertaining to watch—and terrifying for the opposition to face.
Joc Pederson may be the most major league-ready prospect in the minors, and that he'd be able to step into Tampa Bay's lineup immediately and contribute is a major reason why the Dodgers are able to avoid including 20-year-old SS Corey Seager or 17-year-old LHP Julio Urias in the deal.
Athletic enough to stick in center field and a patient hitter with a power/speed combination that teams dram of, Pederson and Myers could be a lethal combination in the middle of Tampa Bay's lineup for the next decade.
A closer in college, the Dodgers have been developing Chris Reed as a starter. While he's got a plus fastball that sits in the low- to mid-90s with heavy sink, his secondary offerings still need some work.
That said, he's shown improvement this year, leading the Dodgers farm system with 83 strikeouts on the season at Double-A (to go along with a 3.25 ERA and 1.19 WHIP). Reed projects to be a solid mid-rotation arm.
Yimi Garcia isn't an overpowering reliever, but he has fantastic control over his arsenal and knows how to miss bats, averaging 1.5 BB/9 and 10.0 K/9 at Triple-A this season. He's more middle relief than closer, but like Pederson, Garcia is someone who can step in and help the Rays rather quickly.
The Package: RHP Luke Jackson, 2B Rougned Odor, RHP Kelvin Vasquez
Few teams have seen their starting rotations be decimated by injury like the Texas Rangers, which—after Yu Darvish—is without every pitcher they originally penciled into their starting rotation before the season began.
Heyman listed the Rangers as one of the three most serious suitors for Price over the winter, and it stands to reason that the team's interest remains.
The key to this deal is 20-year-old Rougned Odor, who has held his own as the Rangers starting second baseman over the past month (.312/.330/.505). While Ben Zobrist has been entrenched at second for the Rays, like Price, he's only got one more year of team control left.
Odor would give the Rays their second baseman of the present and future, allowing manager Joe Maddon to slide Zobrist into right field in Wil Myers' absence and have him split time between a corner outfield spot, designated hitter and second base upon Myers' return.
Luke Jackson has steadily improved as he moves through the Texas farm system, reaching Double-A last season before his 22nd birthday. He's shown improved command over his pitches back at Double-A this season, averaging a career-best 2.6 BB/9 while still showing a penchant for missing bats, averaging a strikeout per inning.
A converted outfielder, Kelvin Vasquez isn't as close to making an impact in the majors as Jackson, but the 21-year-old is an intriguing prospect with mid-rotation upside.
Still raw on the mound, Vasquez has an easy arm action that allows him to generate velocity consistently. His fastball sits in the low- to mid-90s and has some late sink to it, but it, along with his secondary offerings, need work. That said, few teams develop pitchers as well as the Rays, and Vasquez could thrive under the team's watchful eye.
Perhaps no team is better suited to trade for Price than the Boston Red Sox, which has a deep farm system with a boatload of upper-level talent and the financial wherewithal to sign him to a long-term deal.
But the chances of Tampa Bay trading Price within the division are slim, and their asking price from a division rival is sure to be significantly higher than it would be for a team outside the AL East. Boston isn't going to play that game.
The Seattle Mariners, which spent a large chunk of the winter as the prohibitive favorite to land Price, balked at Tampa Bay's asking price, according to Heyman.
With both Paxton and Walker currently injured, Tampa Bay's interest in the pair may not be as high as it once was—and there's no indication that the Mariners have changed their stance. Without one of the two involved, there's really no deal to be made between the two clubs.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are current through games of June 17.
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