The way it looks right now, it won’t be the last time he starts for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The aftershocks from the A’s-Cubs blockbuster haven’t subsided, but this much is clear: Rays general manager Andrew Friedman has become the maestro of Trade Deadline 2014, and he likely will take a little time to mull over what he wishes to do next.
One reason Friedman will be the industry point man for the next few weeks: A number of barriers exist around the other potential ace on the market, Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels. He has a massive long-term contract, a prohibitive no-trade clause (only nine teams can acquire him without his permission), and a ownership/management group that remains stubbornly (and unwisely) reluctant to initiate a large-scale rebuild.
Thus, Price may be the only true No. 1 starter dealt this month.
And, yes, it remains likely the Rays will trade Price, notwithstanding their 16-8 run since mid-June. They’d need to play .694 baseball over the remainder of the season in order to win 90 games. That’s virtually impossible — even for Joe Maddon. And Price earns $2.3 million per month, a significant expense for the worst-attended team in the majors.
Yet, the seeming inevitability of a Price trade hasn’t hurt Friedman’s bargaining position. For one thing, Friedman need not make a desperate deal because — even if the marketplace collapses unexpectedly — Price has another full season to go before free agency. An offseason trade remains the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.
But Friedman has a good chance to get the deal he wants before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, thanks in part to the efforts of Oakland GM Billy Beane in acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs.
Beane gave up an elite prospect (shortstop Addison Russell), arguably the next-best player in the Oakland farm system (center fielder Billy McKinney), plus major-league pitcher Dan Straily, for roughly 60 starts — 45 by Samardzija and 15 by Hammel, assuming both remain healthy.
Friedman can offer approximately 45 Price starts, which — given the left-hander’s career accomplishments — may be as valuable as the 60 Beane just acquired, if not more so. The Rays should be able to tell their counterparts, ‘I need the same value for Price that the Cubs just got: A top-20 overall prospect, the next-best player in your minor-league system, and another valuable piece that helps us right now.’
Few teams can fulfill that order. Surely, the Rays are vetting them now.
BLUE JAYS: The Rays are willing to deal Price within the American League East, and the Blue Jays could make a credible offer by putting forward two of their top three prospects: Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey. Toronto can’t rely on Mark Buehrle to reprise his stellar first half — the Jays are 1-5 in his last six starts — and the team needs a morale boost after falling out of first place.
MARINERS: In 21-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker, the Mariners have one of the top pitching prospects in baseball — assuming, of course, that his early-season shoulder issues are completely behind him. It’s hard to imagine the Mariners can acquire Price without surrendering Walker, and they may be aggressive enough to do it: The Mariners are in position to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001. A Price trade would send a powerful message to a fan base that grew disinterested in recent years.
DODGERS: Count them out of any high-profile pursuit at your own peril. The Dodgers’ rotation was excellent throughout the first half. (You may recall the exploits of one Clayton Kershaw.) But the team’s ownership remains dedicated to winning the World Series — not just making it there — and a rotation of Kershaw, Price, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu sounds quite impressive, doesn’t it? The Dodgers have enough high-level minor-league talent to make it happen, too: Some combination of Joc Pederson (currently on the DL), Corey Seager and Julio Urias.
CARDINALS: The Cardinals’ rich farm system has helped GM John Mozeliak avoid searching for rotation help at recent deadlines. That has changed, with Jaime Garcia’s season-ending surgery and Michael Wacha’s indefinite absence due to shoulder trouble. The Cardinals have a number of outfield prospects (Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty) and could afford to give up hard-throwing Carlos Martinez if it meant landing Price.
Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez also would fit the St. Louis roster, creating the possibility of an expanded deal that would make the Cardinals more comfortable giving up the prospects. (The A’s, for example, wouldn’t have traded Russell unless it meant getting Samardzija and Hammel.)