For the second straight winter, the Tampa Bay Rays are dangling a top starting pitcher on the trade market, hoping to recoup enough value to keep winning on one of the smallest budgets in MLB.
Last year, dependable right-hander James Shields was shipped to Kansas City in a deal that featured elite-level prospect Wil Myers heading back to Tampa. This time around, the Rays are taking interesting offers for their lefty ace David Price, and according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, the Pittsburgh Pirates are among several teams seeking to land the 2012 Cy Young Award winner.
Passan writes that sources tell him the Pirates, along with the Mariners, Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Blue Jays, believe they have the assets to acquire Price, the 28-year-old former first-overall draft pick. Price has two years left before reaching free agency, and Passan estimates he could make up to $30 million by then through arbitration.
He would be worth every penny. Despite a slight downturn in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched compared to his Cy Young season of 2012, Price shows no real signs of decline. His walk rate per nine innings (1.3) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.59/1) were both career bests in 2013, indicating that any loss in stuff should be neutralized by a refined delivery.
Price has made 27 or more starts in each of the past four years, accounting for 17.3 wins above replacement during that span according to Baseball-Reference.com. If he is traded with two years of club control still ahead, the return to Tampa will be massive.
The Pirates have the prospects to make such a move, but it will likely cost them either right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon or outfielder Gregory Polanco, or both. Those two are on track to make major impacts in Pittsburgh in the near future, although neither is a proven commodity like Price.
As Pat Lackey of WHYGAVS surmises, the Rays would probably demand more than just top-line minor-league talent from the Bucs; high-potential athletes like Alen Hanson and Austin Meadows could easily be in play, too, as could players on the 25-man major-league roster.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has been known to say “you have to give to get.” Nowhere is this more true than when a star player is being sought after. Trading for Price wouldn’t be easy, but it would set up the next two years as prime opportunities to contend for a World Series title.