Yesterday, former two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana re-tore his anterior capsule in his left shoulder, effectively ending his season, and potentially his career. Per Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post, Johan is due $31 million this season, none of which is covered by insurance.
Today, former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander inked a five-year extension with the Detroit Tigers, bumping his overall contract to $180 million, with an opportunity to kick it up to $200 should a vesting option be exercised in 2020. From 2015-2019, Verlander's average salary will be $28 million per year. The Houston Astros opening day payroll: $24,328,538.
The dichotomy of the two pitchers is not to suggest that Verlander will get hurt in the near future. He's been incredibly durable throughout his career, and is the closest thing to a sure bet you can ask for. But he's racked up six consecutive seasons of 200+ innings, thrice leading the majors in innings pitched along the way. And if you've caught a start of his before, you're well aware each pitch seems to be thrown harder than the previous one.
Detroit's payroll this season sits a hair under $150,000,000, meaning Verlander's $20 million salary this year makes up about 13% of the entire team's payroll, an extravagantly high number. And more importantly for Rays fans, a number few teams can afford.
There has been a long-held belief that David Price's tenure with the Rays would end in one of two ways: 1) traded before he's a free agent (a la James Shields this past offseason), or 2) Allowed to walk so the Rays could collect a compensatory pick (a la Carl Crawford).
But while the financials of Verlander's deal with the Tigers certainly did the Rays no favors, it may not have hurt them as much as people think.
A player's price is based on a simple game of supply and demand. If numerous teams attempt to sign a player, the price goes up. But if the market is dry, a player will be forced to take less money.
So when reviewing David Price's options, it's important to remember that whatever team trades for Price will have to give up a major bounty (plus some) and be prepared to sign him to the major contract he seeks.
There are the usual suspects: the Yankees (who Price has publicly said he would not play for) and the Red Sox both come to mind, but it's tough to see him going to either place. Coupled with Price's public "bashing," for lack of a better word, of the Yankees "old-school" style, Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner differs from his dad when it comes to spending money, and has made it clear that he wants the Yankees to cut payroll, not add to it. Their quiet offseason speaks to the fact that Steinbrenner seems to be a man of his word. For the Red Sox, they're in purgatory, and are several pieces away from competing. While it's possible that they'd make a run at Price, it's tough to imagine Price making a run at Boston, especially after the terrible experience former Ray Carl Crawford had there.
Sure, the Cubs have money, but they're nowhere near competing. The Tigers aren't putting that type of money into another starter, so you can count them out too. While it's feasible that teams like the Dodgers and Angels will continue their arms race in the suddenly sexy Freeway Series and make a run at Price, it's tough to imagine they'd find the money he's looking for without making serious roster changes. Add in that former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw hasn't been locked up by the Dodgers yet, and it's safe to count them out. [Note: Price was a former Dodgers draft pick out of high school before deciding to pitch at Vanderbilt.]
While the seven above teams may not make a run at Price, two teams that certainly will be in the mix are the Philadelphia Phillies and the Texas Rangers. Roy Halladay's spring training struggles have been alarming, and if he doesn't meet his vesting option, he could be a free agent after the season. The Phillies have always prided themselves on starting pitching, and certainly have the money to take on Price. The problem: their offense. It's well, atrocious. The trio of Howard-Utley-Rollins was great five years ago, when everybody was healthy. But today, they're a shell of their former selves, and the Phils may focus their attention on re-tooling their scuffling offense rather than attempt to go after Price.
The Rangers have dabbled in marquee pitchers in the past, but didn't resign C.J. Wilson last offseason, letting him walk to the division rival Angels (a move that undoubtedly paid off for Texas), and were unable to re-sign Cliff Lee a couple years ago. With a dynamic offense, the Rangers can score runs in the bunches, and were rumored to be involved in the James Shields sweepstakes.
They also possess a mega-prospect who could entice the Rays to pull the trigger: Mike Olt. The 24-year old slugging first baseman was ranked as the #43 prospect in baseball before last season, and appeared in the 2012 Futures All-Star Game. On top of that, he can play third base and right field, fitting in perfectly to the Rays philosophy of having players who can play multiple positions.
But would the Rays make a trade of that magnitude with the Rangers, a team they'll potentially have to face in the playoffs?
The closer you look at the so-called "Price Dilemma," the more you realize it's not as big of a dilemma as you would think. Few teams are going to be able to match Price's contract demands, and the majority of those teams have little use/financial flexibility at this given moment to do so. Historically, long-term deals for pitchers have been poor investments, so the frequency in which they're currently being handed out is surprising.
Of course, if the Rays play out the remainder of Price's contract without trading him or signing him to an extension, a few other teams may join the mix, as they wouldn't have to give up anything outside of a draft pick. But that would also see teams forced to bid against each other, forcing the price to skyrocket to an area few are comfortable going.
Zack Greinke, the recent recipient of a 6-year, $159 million deal from the Dodgers, has already struggled with elbow issues this spring. Add in horror stories like Mike Hampton (his 8-year/$121 million contract is often cited as one of the worst in sports history), and it's easy to see why pitchers are such fragile investments.
All it takes is one injury to a marquee pitcher fresh of a major deal to significantly drop the price of other pitchers, and scare off teams from making bids. Don't forget, while the Rays aren't blowing anybody away with their checkbooks, they did just lock up Evan Longoria with a 6-year/$100 million extension. And at this point, is anybody willing to bet against Andrew Friedman's decision-making?
Me neither. Friedman has basically hit on every free agent during his tenure (save Pat Burrell), and has shrewdly avoided re-signing players who received ridiculous contracts (Carl Crawford). The plan on Price may have been slightly altered today, but it only drives up his trade value knowing what he can fetch on the open market.
Price will get his money from somebody. Just don't be so sure it won't be the Rays.