ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For all the Tampa Bay Rays’ reasons to keep David Price past 4 p.m. Thursday — from enjoying his uncommon talent to maintaining the team’s recent momentum to preserving a chance to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in seven years there’s one that stands above the rest.
The message by trading him would be too loud, and too potentially damaging, for a clubhouse that has gained renewed life and renewed hope for at least an American League wild-card spot.
Certainly, the Price decision will be a close call. It’s one that could be debated until the final hours if a potential suitor becomes desperate. The Rays are willing to listen. Neither outcome would surprise.
The case for trading Price: The Rays, although given second breath with a 29-13 run since June 11, became buried in too large a hole after falling to 24-42. Baseball is a numbers game, and Tampa Bay can’t bet on those sub 20-percent odds of making the playoffs, especially with the Baltimore Orioles’ recent success against AL West contenders and the Toronto Blue Jays’ 9-3 sprint after the All-Star break.
The case for keeping him: The pre-trade-deadline rally, though ending with a 5-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday at Tropicana Field, shows what Tampa Bay was capable of all along. Remember the spring optimism? Remember the lofty expectations for October? Remember the relief many in that Charlotte Sports Park clubhouse felt when Price was back for another spring after a winter of unknowns?
Those visions are alive again, and finally, the Rays have found themselves.
Logic says Rays officials should take this opportunity to accept an enticing haul for Price. The 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner is an elite talent, perhaps the franchise’s most valuable asset ever. He won’t become a free agent until after next season, and before Wednesday, he won six consecutive starts from June 25-July 25. Any potential trade partner would receive one of baseball’s elite arms for more than a year.
But Rays officials should trust their team’s direction when debating this issue. Keep Price. Keep the surge alive.
"It’s not going to be easy for us to handle," Rays right-hander Alex Cobb said of possibly losing Price. "We’re losing probably the best teammate in Major League Baseball if that were to happen and a great friend along the way, also."
That’s the kind of feeling the Rays would have to overcome if Price is no longer with them come Thursday evening. This is a choice that demands careful consideration with logic, reason and perhaps some gut feelings mixed into the equation.
If Price is traded, the psychological message would be that Rays officials have moved beyond this season — unless the return is so great that most understand the offer was one Tampa Bay couldn’t refuse.
But developments Wednesday diminished that possibility. The St. Louis Cardinals, among the teams rumored to be interested in Price, traded for Cleveland Indians right-hander Justin Masterson. Then there are the reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t ecstatic about parting with their top prospects.
Anything is possible. Somebody, the Cardinals or Dodgers or Seattle Mariners or someone else, could get desperate. Tempting offers could come. With the Rays’ difficulty of chipping away at the Orioles’ lead in the AL East, a seller’s mentality could take over. The Rays’ recent surge might not be enough.
Still, they would be wise to hold onto Price until the winter. They should take a chance and believe in the present, with a clubhouse that would be changed if he were to leave.
Why not try to make history?
"I would absolutely be pleased just to get it off everybody’s minds," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the trade deadline. "For me, for us, you come out and you’re a professional. You’re paid to do stuff, and you come in, and you do it. And I think I’ve been pretty much locked in on one day at a time. Obviously, if you were to lose some very important players and some friends, that would be difficult. But we are in a business. We’ve done it before, and we’ve survived."
Nothing Earth-shattering was said Wednesday. Price said he expected to be back in a Rays uniform Friday. So did Maddon. Neither man has the power to determine the ace’s fate, but it’s enticing to wonder how the Rays would look if Price stayed. They should make the discovery possible for themselves.
"I’m playing golf (Thursday), and I put my phone in my bag when I play," Price said. "So I won’t even know, honestly."
Soon enough, Price and the rest of the baseball world will know his destination.
Logic says trade him.
Heart says keep him.
The Rays, aware of the landscape, should believe in their ability to turn the odds in their favor with Price and a clubhouse that would be different with him gone.