While the Rays are still active in the postseason, they're down 2-0 in a best-of-five series and the metaphorical media vultures are already circling around ace pitcher David Price, who may have thrown his last pitch for the Rays on Saturday.
Price's situation is this: He's not eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, but he is eligible for arbitration and is looking at a substantial payday, probably in the area of $15 million for the 2014 season. That's more than the Rays can likely afford and still afford 24 other players. The Rays have also established a pattern in the past, looking to move pitchers two years or more before free agency (Matt Garza, James Shields) when their value is at its highest. Because of this, most observers think the Rays will look to move Price this winter.
So which teams might make a move for David Price? Well, Joel Sherman of the New York Post asked nine baseball executives to list teams that might trade for Price. Well, lookee, lookee. Who's that team listed the second-most times after the Rangers? Why, that would be the same team the Rays shipped Matt Garza to three years ago, our own beloved Chicago Cubs.
The advantages to trading for David Price are easy to see. Price is a true No. 1 ace pitcher, something that Garza and Shields never were. He's the type of player, if healthy, you can build your entire team around. Throughout his career, he's been a workhorse, throwing over 200 innings three years in a row before "only" throwing 186 this year. He missed six weeks this season with a triceps injury, and two starts in 2012 with shoulder "soreness." Other than that, he's been remarkably healthy throughout his career. He just turned 28 in August, so even if the Cubs aren't competitive this season, he's likely to still be good by the time the Cubs get good.
Another reason why the Cubs are mentioned so prominently in speculation about Price is that his college pitching coach at Vanderbilt, Derek Johnson, is now the minor league pitching coordinator with the Cubs. Johnson wouldn't work with Price in that position, but it's not impossible to see him promoted to major league pitching coach if Price was pitching at Wrigley. The Cubs also have the prospects that the Rays likely covet.
Sherman also notes that the Rays have no intention of trading Price to an AL East team and would prefer to send him to the National League, all things being equal. But taking the Red Sox and Yankees out of the equation limits their options. The two big market NL teams, the Mets and the Dodgers, don't have the kinds of top flight prospects the Rays want in return.
The downsides mostly relate to cost, both in terms of money and prospects. James Shields, a fine, fine pitcher but not the equal of David Price, cost the Rays Wil Myers, the number one prospect in all the minors last offseason. Maybe the Royals overpaid, but any deal with the Rays would demand a lot more than the Cubs sent to St. Pete for Garza in terms of prospects.
And while the Cubs can probably afford to pay Price, they're really only getting two years of a "discount" on Price before they would have to sign him to a long-term deal that would probably have to be at least for seven years and $25 million a season, and maybe more. By the time that contract would kick in (and by the time the Cubs would likely compete for a World Series title), Price would be 30 years old. Close to $200 million would have be dedicated to a pitcher on the wrong side of thirty.
You could argue that Price is the kind of superstar No. 1 pitcher who would make such a contract worth it. But two years ago, you would have said the same thing about Tim Lincecum. The Giants wisely held off giving him an extension and likely saved a hundred million dollars over what The Freak is likely to sign for now. (The Giants are rumored to still be interested in re-signing Lincecum, but his price is certain to be a lot less than it would have been had they signed him to an extension after the 2011 season.) CC Sabathia's deal with the Yankees looked good until this season. Maybe that was just a bad season for Sabathia and he'll bounce back. But in any case, the Yankees are on the hook for, most likely, $96 million over the next four years. There is clause in Sabathia's contract that would likely void the last year of the deal if he has a left shoulder injury, but assuming he's healthy, Sabathia will make $25 million as a 36-year-old pitcher in 2017. The Sabathia deal is almost certainly something that Price is going to want to exceed.
As far as making a deal for Price goes, it's hard to see the Cubs swinging a deal without including Javier Baez. Maybe the Cubs are OK with that. Baez does have some contact issues and it's not hard to see him becoming a disappointment if he doesn't control his powerful swing better. But he's also someone who could end up as a perennial all-star and someone whom you build a team around just as much as Price.
Could a deal be made without including Baez? Maybe, if the Rangers also won't part with Jurickson Profar. Maybe some combination of Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and C.J. Edwards and possibly all three would get the job done in such a case. (Kris Bryant is not eligible to be traded this offseason.)
Our friends at DRays Bay looked at the Garza deals last July, which we can use as a guide for a potential Price trade. Of the five players the Cubs sent to Tampa Bay, only one so far has panned out. It turned out to be a good trade for Tampa Bay, however, because Chris Archer looks like he's going to be at least as good as Matt Garza. Hak-Ju Lee missed the whole season with a knee injury, and he might end up being a good player if he bounces back from that. But otherwise, the deal turned out to be Archer for Garza, which while a good deal for the Rays, was also a good deal for the Cubs because they were able to flip Garza for Edwards, Mike Olt, Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez. But it seems highly unlikely the Cubs would be able to flip Price for a similar package because any trade the Cubs made for Price would have to include a long contract extension.
Personally, I love David Price and think he's the type of pitcher the Cubs should be targeting. He's a true ace with three plus pitches and incredible mound presence, his failure in his last game against Boston notwithstanding. But the timing and cost seem all wrong to me. The Cubs are likely still two years away from contending for a title, and by that time, Price will be 30 and is likely to start declining. While there is a lot of debate whether the right to exclusively negotiate with a player is worth anything, the Cubs would have to sign Price to a long-term deal for a trade to make any sense. Then they're looking at having a pitcher locked up at probably $25 million a year until he's 36 or more. Some pitchers are worth that kind of deal, but most are not. It's impossible to know which type Price is, but the odds are against him being one of the good ones, no matter how good he is now.
If the price for Price is less than I think it is, then I'd be all in favor of going after him. I'd love to have David Price in Cubbie pinstripes. I think Price is the type of ace pitcher that you can build a staff around. But the timing is all wrong and he won't bring a championship by himself. As much as it pains me to say it, I think the Cubs have to pass.