Ace Price a hot topic on winter meetings’ opening day

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In a week with few certainties, it took all of five seconds for Joe Maddon to be asked about David Price.

The colorful, spontaneous Tampa Bay Rays manager had settled behind a table in a conference room Monday at the MLB winter meetings, and the most obvious question of his half-hour interview session was asked first.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of a David Price trade?

“Well, you know,” Maddon said, “it’s never a good thought to lose a player like that.”

There’s a sense of resignation from Maddon when hearing him speak about the topic, one that will remain hot throughout the halls of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort this week. There’s no guarantee something will happen with Price, of course, and there’s little doubt that the Rays will do meticulous work when fielding offers for the 2012 American League Cy Young winner.

But Maddon has seen this song and dance before: Carl Crawford signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox in 2010, B.J. Upton signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Braves in November of 2012 and James Shields was traded to the Kansas City Royals last December.

That’s life for the Rays. They have seen young talent fly elsewhere for large paydays after it was groomed at home.

Is Price next? History says probably so.

“If it were to happen,” Maddon said, “it’s one of those (events) that’s almost the word ‘devastating’ in a sense. But we have to recover from those kind of moments if it does actually occur.”

The Rays have much to gain by trading Price soon. He’s 28 years old with a career 3.19 ERA as he enters his career’s prime. Like the Rays did when they scored Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi last season in the deal with the Royals, they can build for tomorrow with a potential Price agreement that could net more.

None of this talk is new. It’s the extension of a discussion, perhaps in its final stages, that began last March in Port Charlotte, Fla., when Price admitted that he does “know what the going rate for starting pitching is these days.”

That rate, which some have estimated to be at least $13 million in arbitration this offseason, have most thinking the Rays will act. The Price window could be an opening too large to ignore, if the right combination of timing, necessity and prospects from a possible partner allows.

“I think one of the main benefits of Winter Meetings is to get all the teams under one roof,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “There’s definitely an accelerator that you’re having when you’re all under one roof. Three days’ worth of conversations seem to get condensed into a day here.”

There are many possibilities with little certainty now. Friedman said the Rays spent Monday talking to more teams than agents — he didn’t address the Price situation specifically — but that’s how these meetings go.

There’s give-and-take. There’s research done. There’s a decision made about whether scenarios are worth it, perhaps days or weeks or months after everyone parts ways here.

For the Rays, creative by necessity, there’s a challenge in this dance. Like with the Shields situation last year, they hold control. They know it.

They won’t rush this choice.

Nor should they. Players like Price don’t come often: A first-overall pick who lived up to his potential, only six seasons into his major league career; a coveted talent who would fit the need for any team that desires starting pitching; a player who has more to accomplish as he enters the height of his career.

“We don’t want my competition to know who we’re on and who we’re not on,” said Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers, whose team was rumored to be interested in Price. “As we’ve seen already this winter, it has been pretty competitive in the free-agent market and the trade market. The less people know that you’re on somebody, the better chance (you have).”

This is the site to test those chances. There’s other business to tend to here, of course.

What will the Rays do about their first-base situation? Can they sign James Loney, who’s rumored to seek a three-year deal worth between $27 million and $30 million? Will they continue to fine-tune their bullpen?

But through all the talk, the hallway whispers, Price remains the biggest prize. The baseball world knew this time was coming.

These oh-so important Winter Meetings are here.

“If you’re going to trade a guy or player like that,” Maddon said, “the returns should be pretty darn good.”

He should know.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.