As the dust settled in Tropicana stadium after the Tampa Bay Rays’ 3-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox, a small throng of white and turquoise jerseys dejectedly waded to the locker room, almost turtle-like in appearance. They had lost the series, and were naturally disappointed, their adrenaline gone and hopes dashed. Although he would never show it, one player was certainly heavier on his feet and more pensive in his thoughts than the rest. David Price was walking out from beneath the flood lights and into into the Rays clubhouse for what would probably be the last time. As he told reporters after the game, with a somber air of acceptance, he expected to be traded in the offseason, just as former teammates James Shields and Matt Garza had in years prior.
Whatever he thinks of it, David Price, expected to earn up to 15 million dollars next year, is becoming too expensive for Tampa and is correct in assuming that he will likely find himself far removed from the friendly pinball stadium that is Tropicana Field and in one of the handful of vaunted major market baseball cathedrals by next spring. Joe Maddon hinted at it nearly a month ago, Peter Gammons is reporting that the Dodgers are already gearing up offers, and numerous writers from ESPN to yahoo are opining that the Phillies could and should make a run for him. It seems odd, though, that the top two teams linked to Price don’t actually have the prospects to realistically acquire them without completely mortgaging their future.
Rays GM Andrew Friedman’s recent pitching trades have earned him reputation as a tactical negotiator. He managed to get Chris Archer and Hak Ju Lee, then the #27 and #92 overall prospects in baseball according to BA, respectively, and a handful of upside players respectively from the Cubs two years ago for Matt Garze. In exchange for James Shields, he wrangled Minor League Player of the Year and #4 overall prospect Wil Myers, #92 prospect Jake Odorizzi, and former #19 overall prospect (although his stock had fallen since) Mike Montgomery from the Rays.
The only difference between Price and his two exiled comrades is that Price is much, much better. He is the only one to have ever won a Cy Young award, he is the only one to have ever been Cy Young runner up, his career ERA is more than a half run lower than each of theirs, and he has three times as many all star appearances as the other two combined. If Shields and Garza fetched a king’s ransom, Friedman shall surely demand a god’s for Price.
The Dodgers could in theory make a move for the flamethrower, but because they lack a clear can’t-miss prospect, they would have to bankrupt their farm system to do so. SS Corey Seager is the highlight of their system, with pure athleticism and a quick bat that can produce both average and power. His value, however, will diminish when he invariably moves to third, and he could take a while to make the majors as he is only 19 and looked completely over matched in a brief stint in the High-A California league this year. Their next best prospect is Joc Pederson, who can get on base, hit for power, and play center field, but can’t do any of those things well enough to move up past spot #35 on MLB.com’s mid season top 50 list. GM Ned Colleti will likely try to start negotiations there, but Friedman will probably force him to dip into his next two prospects: starting pitchers Zach Lee and Julio Urias.
At 21, Lee has matured beyond his years, performing well in Double-A this season because of his command of four major league quality pitches and his poise on the mound. That being said, none of his pitches are strong enough for him to ever be more than a number three starter. To make up for his lack of upside, the Dodgers may include Urias, a highly projectable lefthander with enormous potential….who’s value is limited by the fact that he is only 17 and years away from even scraping AAA. In all likelihood, Colleti would not have to part with all four of his top prospects, but he’d have to come close and it would decimate the Los Angeles system. Considering their past moves, a championship now for a Soviet winter future is a deal they might be willing to make.
In the Phillies’ case, they may not have enough talent to get Price even if they were willing to move basically their entire farm system (a particularly unwise move for them considering they’ve averaged 77 wins over the last two seasons and are not nearly as close to fielding a championship club as the Dodgers are). They only have two clear cut top 100 prospects, with a third – Roman Quinn – sneaking up as the last spot. Their number two and number three prospects, Maikel Franco and the aforementioned Quinn have a lot of potential, the former with his power, the latter with his speed, but neither of them have a high enough floor for the Rays to move a Cy Young award winner. Jesse Biddle, by contrast has the floor and is all but guaranteed to start in the big leagues, but lacks the upside to be a n ace or even a number two starter.
Neither of these teams are excellent fits for Price, but ultimately I see him going to the Dodgers. The new owners have given a clear win-now mandate to Ned Colleti and if they offer everything they have – and they might – no one will be able to match him.