David Price won't be pitching in the 2014 All-Star Game, but the buzz around the Tampa Bay Rays star lefty is certain to create a buzz around Target Field during the Midsummer Classic. As July rolls on, Price's future has the ability to change the direction of Tampa Bay's franchise and the entire 2014 season.
With just over two weeks until the non-waiver trade deadline, the Rays have a critical decision to make regarding Price and how to handle the trading season. At first glance, it makes too much sense for Tampa Bay's front office to hold on to Price. As each turn in the rotation commences, the 28-year-old inches closer to free agency after the 2015 season.
If Tampa Bay were leading the AL East or in prime position to grab a postseason berth, Price's future would surely be determined in the offseason. At 44-53, that's not the case. It's worth noting that the Rays have streaked into the All-Star break with a 20-11 record since June 11, potentially saving what looked to be a lost season.
Unfortunately, that's further complicated matters for general manager Andrew Friedman. Barring an eight- or nine-game winning streak immediately after the break, Tampa Bay will likely sell veteran parts—starting with Price. Despite the surge over the last month, ESPN's postseason odds currently give the Rays just a 3.9-percent chance of reaching the playoffs.
The prospect of shopping Price—the greatest and most accomplished pitcher in Tampa Bay's brief franchise history—could net a franchise-changing haul. As the following chart shows, Price's 2014 numbers stack up among the top starters in baseball:
|Price is Right: Ranks Among MLB Starters|
After a dominant outing July 13 (8 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 5 SO, 1 BB), Price left the field to a smattering of hugs and praise from his teammates. Although the signs of affection could just be considered team camaraderie, speculation began about a possible trade and inside knowledge manifested in a public goodbye.
During a media session in Minnesota on Monday, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner sounded resigned to his ultimate plight and understanding of the business model in Tampa Bay that has resulted in high-profile pitchers being traded, per Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com: "I'd love to stay there and continue to be competitive, but I don't know if that's even a possibility," Price said. "They signed Longoria, so it's not unheard of, but I don't know if they can do two people that way."
When asked about moving on to a bigger market such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, Price didn't hesitate or tip his hand about a preference:
It takes time to fit into a new clubhouse. I understand that. But I think I have good people skills. I could be anywhere, actually. The Rays said they don't have a problem trading me in the division. That opens the doors for a couple of other teams. I don't think I'd have a problem fitting in anywhere. I know a lot of guys in the big leagues now. I at least know somebody from every team. That always helps.
Without free agency looming until after the 2015 season and Price's consistent excellence well worth the one-year, $20-plus million commitment he'll likely garner in arbitration next season, few contending teams would balk at the notion of making a move for the ace.
Of course, the asking price will be high. Over the last few months, according to the MLB Trade Rumors David Price archive, the Rays star has been involved in rumors with the Dodgers, Angels, Cardinals, Athletics, Orioles, Yankees, Blue Jays and Mariners.
Most recently, the Indians joined the mix. According to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish, Cleveland scouts have been encouraged to follow the Rays, a potential precursor to a deal. At 47-47 and 7.5 games behind the AL Central lead, Cleveland wouldn't jump off the page as a perfect Price destination for the remainder of 2014. Yet, with one year left on his deal, 2015 is part of this equation.
Considering Price's overwhelming talent, postseason experience and contract status, any team listed above would be wise to give up the assets necessary to pry him from Tampa Bay's starting rotation and into a postseason race.
As Price mentioned, the Rays don't seem to be adverse—at least publicly—to moving Price within the AL East. If that means a move to Baltimore or Toronto, it's likely that one of the Boston-New York-Tampa Bay trio will fail to win the AL East for the first time since 1997.
As rumors continue to swirl over the next few weeks, keep this in mind: Price is a unique combination of value on a team uniquely in position to move a franchise player without scorn from local or national media.
Anything is in play. From the first-place Dodgers to an AL East rival to the seemingly mediocre Indians, Price's next destination is poised to be a shock to those both inside and outside of the game of baseball.