David Price pointing his direction out of Tampa
Tuesday we looked specifically about the cost it will reportedly take to pry Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs, but with the trade deadline inching closer, the Great Shark Hunt is only a part of a much bigger conversation taking place. Unfortunately for the Jays, it’s not clear how big a place they’ll have in that conversation, at least when it comes to landing an elite starter. Samardzija is the name we’ve heard linked specifically to the Jays the most, yet he is probably the least desirable of any of the front line non-rental pitchers who may be moved over the course of the next five weeks.
Two better options that I mentioned previously, and who were mentioned in Jon Morosi’s piece about the Jays and Cubs, are Cole Hamels and David Price. They both have better name recognition and longer track records of excellence than Samardzija has, so naturally fans will gravitate toward any whispers linking them with the Jays. Fans, myself included, will easily insist that they’d accept the sort of deal the Cubs are reportedly demanding if it were instead Hamels or Price.
I’m not sure that’s entirely fair to Samardzija. He’s been better than Hamels so far this year. He is having his third straight very good season. The reason his track record isn’t as long, despite his age, is rather understandable — he threw just 240 innings over three seasons as a baseball/football player at Notre Dame, then ended up spending a lot of time in the bullpen — and sometimes considered a point in his favour, since he has a relatively small number of innings on his arm for his age. The Cubs obviously value him very highly, too. Morosi tweeted last week that they’d offered him a five-year deal worth over $85-million, which he rejected.
He’s probably closer to the other two than many want to believe, I think, but yes, he’s clearly below them. Yet I think we all know why we aren’t hearing the Jays linked more closely to Hamels — if he’s even as available as we want to believe — and Price.
For Hamels, the reasons are fairly simple: money, age, and the fact that he may yet still be part of the next good Phillies team (or possibly because… uh… who the fuck knows what the hell that organization is ever thinking?). There’s also the fact that, per Cot’s, he has limited no-trade protection, which way too often includes the Jays, but let’s ignore that for a moment. He turned 30 just after Christmas, and on July 1st he’ll still be owed $15-million for the rest of this season, plus $22.5-million for the four seasons following (plus a $6-million buyout for his 2019 option). He’s a very good pitcher, and that money is actually pretty reasonable, given the going rates of front line starters, but we know what this ownership is like, and we know enough to not bother believing that they’d sign up to assume that kind of a contract until we actually fucking see it (again) — even if it means the Jays get to save some prospect value by simply taking the money off the Phillies’ hands, as Ruben Amaro tries to reshuffle the deck chairs around his other bloated contracts (*COUGH* Ryan Howard *COUGH*) and the fact that Cliff Lee is out hurt and not currently a trade candidate (though he did throw a bullpen session this week — and also is expensive as fuck: $37.5-million guaranteed after this one, and that’s for just one year and a buyout, pick up the 2016 option and it’s $52.5-million for two years).
There is too much to like about this possibility to even begin to think it’s remotely realistic, frankly. But hey, at least Hamels doesn’t play in the same division as the Jays. David Price does, and he is the more likely of the two to be moved, has none of the same no-trade protections, is a better pitcher, and used to the AL East (for whatever that’s worth), and is still an arbitration eligible player, meaning his contract pays much, much less — and though you very likely lose him after his age-29 season (to the Dodgers, obvs), you get a pick back in the 2016 draft for your troubles. There’s plenty to like about that situation, clearly (apart from the astronomical cost it will take to get him), but there’s a problem: for the Jays to get him they and the Rays would need to make a rare intra-division trade.
Or… is this a problem? Hmmm…
Would Rays deal Price within AL East? Some rivals believe yes, say Jays could get him if they include top prospect Aaron Sanchez.
— Danny Knobler (@DannyKnobler) June 23, 2014
Hey, and that sounds even better, given the not-quite-so-glowing, painfully realistic report on Sanchez that came from Baseball Prospectus today! “Easy to see very high ceiling given tools but difficult to see the package coming together,” says the report based on two games before Aaron’s promotion to Buffalo. “Reminds me a lot of A.J. Burnett in many ways; will look brilliant at times and lost at others; mid-rotation starter who will have streaks where he can shows more than that.”
So totally do it, right??? Well… not so fast.
There have been rumblings of sorts that a deal may not be so far fetched. Last week Jim Bowden wrote for ESPN.com that “although the Rays would no doubt prefer to trade Price outside the division (or the league, for that matter), the Blue Jays are one of the few teams that can offer the Rays exactly what they want: a potential No. 1 starter.” He then added that “a deal involving Aaron Sanchez and a throw-in for Price would probably work for both teams.”
Seems light to me, but Bowden also went on to suggest that “the Jays likely would prefer to put Marcus Stroman in the deal instead of Sanchez,” so… I’m not sure ol’ Jim and I are quite on the same page.
On a less pulled-out-the-ass note, Mark Topkin looked at the possible suitors for Price earlier this week for the Tampa Bay Times, and implored the club to trade him sooner than later, suggesting that every start he makes — like the gem he threw last night — “reduces his value because that means one fewer start he makes for his new team.”
It’s not necessarily easy to find a team that has the right mix of premium young players, a need for an ace such as Price and the financial wherewithal to take him on. There’s the remainder of his $14 million salary this year (though the Rays could eat some in the deal), $17 million to $20 million next and then free agency, with Felix Hernandez’s seven-year, $175 million deal in Seattle a potential marker.
Also, the trade partner preferably is in the National League. Or at least not in the American League East, which could cross several potential candidates off the list.
So he doesn’t rule out Price moving to an AL East rival, but it’s very obviously not preferable in the near-term for the Rays — who still aim to be good in 2015 — to see Price pitching for a team they’re competing with, and playing against 19 times, while they continue to wait for contributions from the players received in the deal. That concern cuts both ways, of course, too. As much as the Jays would love to have Price for this season and next — and as much as I scoff at Rogers’ willingness to take on a salary like Hamels’ (even as ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweets that the Jays were one of several teams scouting the Phillies this week), I tend to suspect that with the shorter commitment and bigger name, convincing them to add payroll for Price would be more doable — the Jays don’t necessarily want to see a guy like Sanchez for six years either. Plus whoever else they may have to give up. I mean, it’s bad enough that Noah Syndergaard is in the Mets system now. Imagine having moved him to the Rays.
For Tampa, though, there’s also the concern that whichever team they move Price to will be far better equipped than they are to offer him a large enough contract extension to keep him from hitting free agency. As I said above, I don’t think it’s very likely the Jays would end up doing that, but the risk from Tampa’s perspective is nonzero, and they certainly would have a better shot at keeping him if he was already here than they would via free agency.
Add in the fact surely other teams will be making comparable offers, and it just really seems like a pipe dream unless the Rays really and truly believe in Aaron Sanchez — and the Jays are willing to offer him. Hamels does, too. And so… we get Samardzija talk. And rental talk. And talk of just slogging it out with Buehrle, Dickey, Stroman, Hutchison, and Happ, but adding some bullpen pieces, and a damn proper second- or third-baseman instead.
I can live with that.
I can live with any of it, really. We shall see what happens…