ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Manager Joe Maddon’s reaction to David Price’s trade was one of disappointment but little surprise. On a franchise-changing day for the Tampa Bay Rays, when a four-time American League All-Star and the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner was sent to the Detroit Tigers as part of a three-team trade that also included the Seattle Mariners, Maddon had come to terms with a new era.
"The reaction is obviously you’d prefer David did not have to go," Maddon said. "Then it doesn’t surprise that he has to go under our working abilities here, so it’s not a huge surprise. It’s disappointing in a sense that he was born a Ray. He helped propel us to the World Series (in 2008), he’s an outstanding pitcher — one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around. So all of that said, it’s Detroit’s game. He’s going to be huge out there."
Price, the Rays’ ace left-hander at the center of trade rumors for weeks, goes to the Tigers in exchange for left-hander Drew Smyly, 25, and prospect Willy Adames, an 18-year-old shortstop who will report to Single-A Bowling Green. The Rays also receive infielder Nick Franklin, 23, from the Mariners. Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson goes to Seattle.
Smyly, who’s 6-9 with a 3.93 ERA in 21 appearances (18 starts) this season, will move into the starting rotation and possibly pitch Tuesday in Price’s slot against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum. Franklin, who hit .294 with nine home runs and 47 RBI with Triple-A Tacoma this season while appearing in 17 games with the Mariners, will report to Triple-A Durham. Adames, who hit .269 with six home runs in 98 games with Class A West Michigan this season, will report to Class A Bowling Green.
Price said his goodbyes to Rays fans via Twitter.
wow…what a day!! Rays fans THANK YOU!! Great Chapter of my life just ended…ready to start a new one with the Tigers!! Thanks again
The Rays are no stranger to blockbuster trades involving pitchers. In January 2011, they traded right-hander Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs and right-hander James Shields was dealt to the Kansas City Royals in December 2012.
Price becomes the latest. He emerged as one of the majors’ best starters late in the season’s first half. He had five consecutive starts with at least 10 strikeouts from June 4-25. Before a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday, he had won six consecutive starts from June 25-July 25. He has an 11-8 record with a 3.11 ERA and 189 strikeouts in 23 starts this season.
Though the trade was difficult, Rays officials viewed the move as necessary for the franchise’s future success.
"David has been an important part of the Rays franchise and the winning tradition we have established during his Rays career," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement. "I can’t thank him enough for his contributions to the organization these past eight years, and we will clearly miss him. These are difficult decisions we are forced to confront. Our fans have come to understand that reality, just as our organization has learned to operate with the challenges posed by the economic model and the growing disparity in our sport."
"It’s something that we’ve done in the past, and it’s something we expect we’ll need to do in the future," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "We have to maintain that balance that (executive vice president of baseball operations) Andrew (Friedman) always speaks about and manage the runway of talent that we have. … It shouldn’t be a surprise."
Trade speculation has been part of life for Price since late last season. Many throughout baseball thought he could be dealt in the offseason, after the Rays lost to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series. Still, they held onto him and his $14 million salary as a sign of their confidence in threatening for their fifth postseason appearance in seven years.
However, most of Tampa Bay’s season has underwhelmed. The Rays fell to a season-worst 24-42 after a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 10. They began to recover during a 9-2 road trip from June 27-July 6, and they have posted a 29-13 mark since June 11.
Still, at the start of play Thursday, they were eight games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and 5 1/2 behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the American League’s second wild-card spot.
Friedman said discussions about trading Price gained momentum in the past six weeks. He said Tampa Bay’s place in the standings played a factor as well.
"We talked through every scenario and went through it in great detail," he said.
"It’s a difficult environment right now with prospects. We focused a little bit more on current value, and there’s guys who can help us immediately and help us in the near future."
Still, losing Price will be hard for a Rays team that hoped to continue post-All-Star break momentum. Price’s most decorated season came in 2012, when he claimed the American League Cy Young Award. He finished 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA in 31 starts. Until pitching 186 2/3 innings last season, when he missed time because of a strained left triceps, he had not pitched fewer than the 208 2/3 innings he posted in 2010 since that year.
As recent as Wednesday night, Price and Maddon were confident that the ace would not be leaving Tampa Bay. When asked about the prospect of him returning Friday for the start of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field, Price said, "Yeah, absolutely." When asked about the same possibility, Maddon said, "It takes two to dance, boys."
Still, with the Rays’ playoff prospects slim — Baseball Prospectus gave them a 10.6 percent chance Thursday to earn one of the two American League wild-card berths — team officials deemed it best to explore the chance of receiving attractive pieces for the future.
Now, the Rays must carry on without their rotation’s anchor.
"I’m anticipating not skipping a beat," Maddon said. "And that’s not denigrating David in anyway. I just think that we’ve come so far, and we have a bunch of professionals in our room, and I want to believe that we’re going to be able to continue this."