David Price Pitched Like an Ace, but Was Traded as If He Wasn't One

Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2014

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We've already explained why the Tampa Bay Rays needed to trade David Price. His value was sky-high, and the Rays—even after a good month of baseball—weren't close enough to switch out of sell mode. Plus, with aces like Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester fetching solid returns, imagine the haul of blue-chippers a stud like Price could net.

Which is what makes the deal the Rays just made—a three-team swap with the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners first reported by FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthalsuch a head-scratcher.

Price has made four All-Star teams. He's won a Cy Young. And he's currently leading the majors in strikeouts. He is, as ever, an ace's ace.

But he wasn't traded like one.

Here are the details of the deal, first outlined by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, Mike Salk of 710 ESPN and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune: The Tigers get Price, the Mariners get centerfielder Austin Jackson from Detroit and the Rays get pitcher Drew Smyly and minor league shortstop Willy Adames from Detroit and infielder Nick Franklin from Seattle.

The Tigers immediately get one of the most fearsome rotations in baseball, keeping pace with the Oakland A's, who have also been collecting arms. The Mariners get an outfield upgrade as they push for the playoffs.

And the Rays get...well. Not exactly nothing. But not the spoils many expected.

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Smyly, a 25-year-old left-hander, moved from the Detroit bullpen into the rotation this year and has put up a 3.77 ERA and 1.30 WHIP with 87 strikeouts in 100.1 innings. 

Franklin, 23, has spent time at both second base and shortstop, and hit .294 with nine home runs for the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. But he hit just .214 in 416 big league at-bats over the past two seasons and was blocked by the signing of Robinson Cano.

Adames is the rawest of the bunch. Just 18 years old, he hit .269 with a .346 OBP in the Low Class-A Midwest League. 

Certainly the Rays got some value. But did they get enough? Was this the franchise-changing deal that appeared inevitable?

Doesn't seem like it. Not compared to what the Red Sox got for Lestera budding star in Cespedesor what the Cubs got for Samardzija and Jason Hammela bushel of young talent, including shortstop Addison Russell, ranked the No. 3 prospect in baseball by ESPN Insider's Keith Law (subscription required).

Or even compared to what the Rays have gotten in the past for their arms. When Tampa Bay traded James Shields to the Kansas City Royals in 2012, they netted then-prospects Jake Odorizzi and Wil Myers per ESPN.com (via The Associated Press)—arguably a better return than they just got for Price. 

And Shields is no Price.

Few pitchers are. Which begs the question: What happened? Did the Rays wait too long, holding Price too close to the deadline and losing leverage? Did general manager Andrew Friedman, generally regarded as a shrewd baseball mind, get bamboozled?

Or is there something we're missing?

"This was something that happened very quickly," Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told FoxSports.com's Dave Hogg. "We had talked a little to Tampa about 10 days, but if you had asked me yesterday morning, I would have told you that there was about a zero percent chance that we would get David."

Apparently, zero percent can turn to 100 percent in a hurry. 

Yes, it's possible the players acquired by the Rays will blossom and help the club long term. Smyly, already delivering at the big league level, is under team control through 2018. That alone is something, since Price was almost guaranteed to walk away after next year for a massive free-agency payday.

And Franklin, also young and cost-controlled, could factor into the middle infield mix in the near future.

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

But surely this isn't how Rays fans envisioned Price exiting after six-plus stellar seasons. As they watch him pitch for a Tigers team that looks primed for a return to the World Series, thoughts of Willy Adames possibly contributing in 2019 may not be enough to ease the sting.

Here's how USA Today's Bob Nightengale summed up the deal shortly after its consummation:

Price lost what turned out to be his final start in Tampa Bay on Wednesday to the Milwaukee Brewers; he was dealt almost 24 hours afterward, for far less than the blockbuster offer it was assumed would be needed to acquire his services.

The Rays needed to trade Price. We stand by that. But they also needed to trade him like the ace he is, and the ace he'll surely be for Detroit as they push for October.

They didn't. And that sound you hear is a lot of folks in Tampa Bay scratching their heads.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.