Think back to what the Tampa Bay Rays got last offseason for two years of right-hander James Shields, plus righty Wade Davis — a package including outfielder Wil Myers, one of the game’s top offensive prospects, and right-hander Jake Odorizzi, a well-regarded young pitcher.
Pretty darned good.
Righty Zack Greinke, when he had two years left on his contract in December 2010, brought the Royals a group that included Odorizzi, shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielder Lorenzo Cain.
Not bad, either.
Now here comes left-hander David Price, who is statistically superior to what Shields was last offseason and what Greinke was after 2010 — and yes, under club control for two more years.
Heaven only knows what he would bring the Rays in a trade this offseason, given the weak free-agent market for starting pitching and the difficulty in acquiring star-caliber talent overall.
The Rays, if they kept Price, would stand a decent chance of making their fifth playoff appearance in seven years. But one of the ways they sustain success is by trading starting pitchers at peak value.
Price, 28, is at peak value now.
Former Cy Young Award winners rarely are dealt under these circumstances, at least not when healthy. (Jake Peavy was an exception in July 2009.) Cliff Lee moved three times after winning the 2008 American League Cy, all within the final year-and-a-half before he became a free agent. Roy Halladay and Johan Santana each had a year left on their respective contracts when they were traded, CC Sabathia less than three months.
Price would not come cheaply. The cost in talent would be considerable, and his combined salaries over the next two seasons probably will be in the $30 million range. Still, any club that acquires Price gladly would pay those numbers — and, of course, gain the inside track to signing him to an extension before he hit the free-agent market. And think about it: When is the next time a pitcher of his quality will be so readily available?
OK, maybe the Tigers will trade right-hander Max Scherzer this offseason. Yet, the idea of the Tigers weakening their team under new manager Brad Ausmus makes little sense, particularly when they again could dominate the Central with Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister in their rotation.
What’s more, Scherzer would be less attractive than Price in a trade — he is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2014 season, and his agent, Scott Boras, historically prefers his clients to hit the open market. Price’s agent, Bo McKinnis, almost certainly would be more open to negotiating an extension, as he did for right-hander R.A. Dickey last offseason after the Mets traded Dickey to the Blue Jays.
So, who are the other alternatives to Price? Verlander and Felix Hernandez recently signed long-term extensions. Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester also figure to get mega-deals before hitting free agency. And while Scherzer could go free next offseason, the market — with annual national TV revenues about to rise from $25 million to $52 million — could be ungodly.
Better to get Price for two years now, then take your chances, no?
Price is 71-39 with a 3.19 ERA in 973 innings lifetime, averaging 8.1 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine innings. Greinke, at the time the Royals traded him to the Brewers, was 60-67 with a 3.82 ERA in 1,108 innings lifetime, averaging 7.6 strikeouts and 2.3 walks.
The difference between the two in ERA-plus (122 for Price, 116 for Greinke) was perhaps less than one might expect, considering that Price has spent his entire career in the AL East. But again, Price is superior to what Greinke was then, and even more superior to what Shields was a year ago.
The Rays’ biggest obstacle, as they entertain offers for Price, might be their own expectations — they surely will want to beat their return for Shields, and not by a little. In the end, they might need to accept less than what they envision, just as a suitor might need to give more.
Regardless, the demand for Price should be intense. The St. Louis Cardinals lack a left-handed starter, and are deep enough in young pitching to deal for any star they want. The Texas Rangers long have coveted Price and could start a package with lefty Martin Perez and infielder Jurickson Profar. The Boston Red Sox, possessing the game’s top farm system, according to Baseball America, also could get involved, though the Rays likely would want a steeper package from a division rival than they would from another club.
The Royals, Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks all possess enough young talent to make significant offers. The Los Angeles Dodgers investigate every big-name possibility, but the top of their farm system is not as compelling as some others’. The Chicago Cubs last year hired Price’s former pitching coach at Vanderbilt, Derek Johnson, as their minor league pitching coordinator, but they lack pitching prospects to offer the Rays and might consider it too soon to make such a move.
In any case, you get the idea. Price is available, available for at least two more seasons to any team that acquires him. Gentlemen, submit your offers. These chances do not come around often.