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Q&A with ESPN's Buster Olney

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We had the opportunity to speak with Buster between the ESPN Fourth of July and Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts, both of which feature the Tampa Bay Rays this year.

Coupled with ESPN's coverage of the Rays on the Fourth of July and Sunday Night Baseball this week, DRaysBay was able to chat with ESPN's Buster Olney this afternoon about a number of topics concerning the Tampa Bay Rays, including the David Price's trade environment, and the team's potential in the second half of the season.


DRaysBay: Obviously, the big news in baseball right now is the Cubs and Athletics trade centered around Jeff Samardzija and Addison Russell. How do you think that trade might specifically affect the market for David Price? Do you think the teams out there looking at Price might be more aggressive?

Buster Olney: I think it helps them for a couple of reasons, and more importantly, it doesn't hurt them. I think Andrew's [Friedman] preference is to deal with a National League team. But I think the biggest thing is the lingering question of what the market price is going to be for a high-end starting pitcher. And now, Price is the only one left and the one that came off the board went for a huge price. Addison Russell is an enormous return for Samardzija.

I talked to people with Oakland a couple of weeks ago, and they told me flat out, 'No, we're not in play for either one of the big guys (Price or Samardzija), because we're not giving up Addison Russell.' They obviously changed their mind on that, but what that allows Andrew to do is to basically go to different teams and say 'We saw what Samardzija, who doesn't have David's pedigree, commanded in a trade.' So I think it's good for the Rays.

Now, you do wonder about the teams interested, and who would exactly be at Addison Russell's level. It may be more of a volume trade than that one.

DRB: Price's ERA (3.50) is higher than expected this season, but his K:BB ratio (153-17) is incredible and potentially historic. When teams are looking to acquire a pitcher via trade, will they tend to value the one stat over the other?

Olney: It sort of depends on the pitcher himself. If he has a great K:BB ratio, but opponents are hitting .320 against him because he's more of a softball pitcher that works the plate, he's going to get demerit points for that, but that's obviously not the case with Price.

I was talking with a longtime evaluator a couple of weeks ago who said Price is Cliff Lee in 2010 and 2011. Fastball and cutter, pounds the strike zone, comes inside -- and I actually ran that past Tori Hunter a little while ago. He said, 'No, Price is more of a power pitcher than Cliff Lee.'

I think that's what sort of eye opening for people: that he can try and throw it has hard as he can, and he's controlling the ball, which is kind of unusual.

DRB: Kevin Kiermaier is a player that Rays fans have been excited about watching. How much of you have you seen him play so far this season, and if you can compare him to a current MLB player, do you think there is an adequate comparison out there?

Olney: I don't know if I've seen him enough to make my own comparison.

He's one of the guys, to me, who is the classic Rays player. It feels like he can do a lot of different things. I mean, obviously he's so good defensively, you can put him in different spots and he can make something happen. He's such a good athlete. He's been really impressive so far in the times that I've seen him just because of the athleticism, which is what jumps out at you. As he goes along, you just wonder how much better can he get.

DRB: The Rays had a rough first half of the season, but now they have won 8 out of their last 10 games and they're kind of on a roll. Joe Maddon believes they're going to be in the playoff hunt. What's your opinion? Do you think the Rays will be able to overcome their early season struggles and get back into playoff contention?

Olney: Well, in full disclosure, I pick them to play in the World Series before the season. One of the questions you hear the most when you talk to people with different teams is, 'Why are the Rays this bad? Why haven't they played better?' I think people are confused that they've struggled so much. Probably what you're seeing lately is closer to what they are.

If I'm in the Rays position, I'm at least waiting longer because you already put your chips in for this season. You hung onto Price, you added payroll, and if it were a normal situation in the American League East, you probably say 'Eh, we're not good enough.' But it's not this year.

You talk to people with the Yankees and they're grinding their teeth about the back-end of their rotation. You talk with the Red Sox and their offense is nothing like it's been in the past 30 or 40 years; they just don't hit for power. Up and down the line, you talk with people about the other teams [in the East] and they are really flawed teams.

Part of the equation that may not be available for the Rays is the two wild card spots. Those probably won't be viable, because the Angels and Mariners look like they could be the wild card teams. So for the Rays, the mathematical equation is you're going for one spot by winning the division. I personally would wait.

When I talked with Tori Hunter earlier, he said, 'I've never seen a year with so many streaks with teams.' If the Rays go 7-3 over there next 10 games, their world looks completely different.

DRB: On a broader scale within the MLB, we've seen some more team-friendly contracts with younger prospects. Guys like Chris Archer and Jonathan Singleton have signed these deals early on in their careers, but then you see a player like Gregory Polanco shy away from signing long-term. Do you think this idea of team-friendly contracts for talented prospects will be the growing trend moving forward?

Olney: Everyone is going to be looking to do it. Teams are far more efficient today than they were 20 or 25 years ago at examining contracts. You could lock up a young player and not have it work out, but it seems like teams are having more success with it. Between Evan Longoria, Zobrist and on down the line, to me the Rays have demonstrated how you lock up guys with virtually no service time.

It's funny, because you hear criticism of it, how older players are criticizing these deals -- but if you're 23 or 24 years old, how in the world do you turn down $25 million? I think people forget just how much money that is.


Thank you to Buster Olney for taking the time to speak with us this afternoon. He'll be a part of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball broadcast, alongside Dan Shulman and John Kruk tomorrow night.

You can follow Buster on Twitter and hear his thoughts daily on the Baseball Tonight podcast.