The Tampa Bay Rays just ripped off a nine-game winning streak. They're still under .500, but they're on the fringe of the American League playoff race. Another good month could put them in the thick of things.
So it might seem like the David Price question—to trade or not to trade?—is a difficult one.
As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, the Rays should absolutely, unequivocally deal their ace. If they don't, they'll regret it sooner than later.
Why? What makes this seemingly tough decision such a no-brainer? Let's break it down.
His Value Will Never Be Higher
With so many teams clinging to playoff hopes and so few willing to cash in their chips, this is truly a seller's market. The question with Price isn't who's interested, but rather who isn't?
Contending clubs that might be willing to mortgage the farm to land the stud left-hander include the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers, according to FoxSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi. (Peruse MLBTradeRumors.com and you'll find nearly everyone has been linked to the 28-year-old southpaw at one time or another.)
Price's stock is so high, in fact, that even noncontenders like the Chicago Cubs might be in the mix, Morosi adds.
Partly it's because he's just that good. Entering play Wednesday, the four-time All-Star owned a 3.08 ERA and 1.04 WHIP to go along with a major league-leading 183 strikeouts and 163.2 innings pitched.
But Price's value is buoyed by his contract status. With one more year of arbitration eligibility before he hits the open market, any team that acquired the 2012 Cy Young winner would be assured of keeping him for 2015 and possibly negotiating a long-term deal.
There are other top-shelf starters on the block, including the Boston Red Sox's Jon Lester, but Price looks like the biggest prize.
That means the package of prospects the Rays could net—especially from a team like the Cardinals with a very deep system—could set them up for years to come.
Even With Him, The Rays' Chances Are Slim
To their credit, the Rays have turned what looked like a lost season into something approaching respectability. If they keep it up, it's not impossible to imagine them sneaking into the postseason.
After that, who knows?
Let's get real, though. Tampa Bay is currently staring up at three teams—the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles—in its own division. With the Detroit Tigers looking fearsome in the AL Central and the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels locked in an arms race in the AL West, the chances of the Rays making the playoffs, let alone making a deep run, are slim.
Price might make another 10 starts this year. Even if the Rays win them all, they'll still likely be sitting at home in October.
While Jayson Stark of ESPN.com says the Rays are "open-minded" about moving Price and won't make the call until the 11th hour, the New York Daily News' Bill Madden reports Price is "off the market because the Rays don't want to mess with their chemistry."
If that's true, they're looking at the wrong formula.
He'll Be Gone After 2015
If Tampa Bay keeps Price, his price tag will skyrocket in arbitration. Then he'll hit free agency and almost certainly walk away for a massive payday elsewhere (assuming he stays healthy, another X-factor that should nudge the Rays toward dealing now).
Rays fans who have cheered Price through six-and-a-half stellar seasons may not like it, but that's the reality for small-market teams.
Just look at the A's, the kings of spendthrift success. Oakland has dealt away a whole deck of aces over the past decade-plus, usually getting bushels of talent in return.
So the question becomes: Is one final (expensive) season of Price worth more than the bounteous haul the Rays would get if they moved him now? Are Tampa Bay's short-term chances with Price better than their long-term chances with whatever shiny blue-chippers they could acquire?
Those are rhetorical questions, but let's answer them anyway: no and no.
The clock is ticking. The deadline is looming. The stakes are high.
And the price, pardon the pun, is right.