The Wrong Question About David Price

J. Meric

Will They Trade Him? vs Will They Keep Him?

The stories circulated in less than 24-hours that David Price is likely to be traded, and here are some quotes from him because we asked him questions about it, and would you believe that he was aware the Rays often trade pitchers late in their contract when they get expensive to replenish the farm system, and he could follow in the footsteps of Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and James Shields right out the Rays' front door to usher in the next era of the Rays developing really great pitchers and succeeding with a low payroll and young players, so its true that David Price has already considered the fact that he's already thrown his last pitch in a Rays uniform and he might be pitching for another team next season and he might be moving cities but CALM DOWN.

Yes, the Rays have a perchant to trade their starting pitchers once they get expensive, but there are other circumstances at play here, for and against keeping Price.

One declarative reason for trading David Price is his immediate value. With two arbitration years remaining (and the potential to sign a lucrative extension), the former Cy Young winner can offer a team two full seasons of what will likely be in the neighborhood of five wins above replacement. Furthermore, the Rays are in the driver's seat, and can dictate what they expect in a trade, but all of these things overlook one important aspect.

The beauty of it all is that the Rays can also walk away.

When James Shields was traded, the Rays brought in a top five prospect, a pitching prospect to replace lost depth, and two middling prospects to round out the system. If you think two years of David Price is worth more than James Shields, which is its own discussion, its reasonable to assume the Rays front office will expect more in return.

In that regard, there are probably only two teams that can reasonably match the Rays' likely demands (Chicago and St. Louis), thanks to lucrative financial backing and incredibly deep farm systems. Short of any other team selling the farm and mortgaging their future (read: Philadelphia every winter), there's not a huge market of buyers.

The follow up might be, "wasn't every team coming out of the woodwork to offer trades for Giancarlo Stanton?" Sure, but we're only talking about two years of a five win pitcher at a cost of high end prospects and $30M. Anyone would trade for years of Stanton, while Price is a short-term gain at a long-term cost and decent cash.

Furthermore, the Rays may not be ready to trade price. When the team shipped out James Shields, they had David Price and Alex Cobb to fall back on and lead the rotation, which was fortunate considering the lack luster performance of Matt Moore (in velocity and consistency) this season.

Granted the uncertainty of Moore's elbow, we cannot declare him ready to fill the shoes of Price in the rotation; and if you will allow me some generalizations, neither will the rest. Chris Archer is still in development, running through hot and cold streaks on the mound, and Jeremy Hellickson will not break higher than No. 3 in the rotation with a 92 MPH fastball and predictable pitch placement.

The Rays are not ready to replace five wins in the starting rotation, which is a decent indication of how much value the team would need in return to stay at their current level. We can dig through prospect lists until the winter meetings, but granted the unlikely scenario the Rays will get what they want in return for Price, I'd rather look at whether the Rays can keep their ace.

If The Price Is Right?

Principle owner Stu Sternberg has made two statements in regards to the Rays and their 2014 payroll: that this year's salary was too generous for the stadium attendance that was the lowest in baseball, and that the team has every intention and ability of holding on to David Price, if that is what they want or need to do.

But do those statement jive?

2013 Rays Payroll: $61.9M

2014 Commitments:

The Infield: Evan Longoria (7.5), Ben Zobrist (7.0), Yunel Escobar (5.0), Jose Lobaton (~0.5), Sean Rodriguez (~1.5) - $21.5M

The Outfield: David DeJesus (6.5),  Sam Fuld (~1.0), Desmond Jennings (~0.75), Wil Myers (~0.5), Matt Joyce (~2.75) - $11.5M

Starting pitchers: Alex Cobb (~0.5), Matt Moore (1.0), Jeremy Hellickson (~2.75), Chris Archer (~0.5) - $4.75M

Relief Pitchers: Juan Carlos Oviedo (2.0), Joel Peralta (3.0), Jake McGee (~1.0), Alex Torres (~0.5), Wesley Wright (~1.5), Brandon Gomes (~0.5), Jeff Niemann (~3.5) - ~$12M

The Rays can already build the majority of their roster with a mere $49.75 Million, and will have ~$12M remaining to sign a first baseman, a catcher, one more bench player, and possibly David Price and come in on budget with last season.

If the Rays were to re-sign James Loney at double his previous salary (up to $4.0) and bring back Delmon Young at slightly more than his previous salary (say $1.0M), that's one third our surplus. To bring in an experienced catcher to share duties with Lobaton would probably cost ~$3.0M, whether that be re-signing the immortal Jose Molina or another free agent like Dioner Navarro.

Either way, that brings our surplus down to ~$4M, less than half of what's left to achieve 2013's payroll, and Sternberg is on record saying the payroll will be below what it was this season. That's also at least one-third of what Price will earn.

There's wiggle room here. The Rays could buy out David DeJesus for $1.5M instead of exercising his option, could rely on prospects to fill the gaps (like Chris Gimenez and Brandon Guyer), and cut the surplus like Jeff Niemann.

The Rays could also play with deferred salaries. David Price's true salary in 2013 was actually $6M with $4M deferred into 2014. So in real terms, last year's payroll was actually $58.1M, and with these projections the Rays would have already exceeded the previous year's total. So Sternberg is singing two different tunes: Keeping Price and shrinking the payroll are not the same matter.

However, let me say emphatically, that does not mean the Rays cannot afford Price.

Sternberg and the team each have financial sources than attendance figures. The talk of a shrinking payroll is a theme we hear each season; meanwhile, the future of television revenue and the ability to defer current year contracts gives the Rays enough flexibility that the team wouldn't not sign Price because it put the team's payroll over a certain limit.

In other words, we can't take these PR statements on salaries and payroll at their face value.

The front office will turn their profit, and the team will get the most value out of Price. Whether that means keeping Price or bending the salary has yet to be seen, but the question is not "Will the Rays trade Price?" -- it's "What will give the Rays the most value?"

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