Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox

By avoiding arbitration with a one-year, $14 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, David Price remains a very good pitcher getting very expensive for a team that doesn’t deal well with cost. The Rays operate on a tight budget and, with free agency looming after the 2015 season, David Price may soon become a luxury they cannot afford.

With a Cy Young in his back pocket, Price earned a $3 million raise on his third trip through arbitration, with one more to come for the Super Two pitcher. Another spin through the arb process should net David Price close to $20 million a year, which is far too rich for the Rays blood.

After another strong season (injury shortened as it was, Price still put up another 3 WAR in 27 starts), Price represents a huge trade chip for the Rays, not to mention a huge asset as the club makes another improbable run to the playoffs. The Rays can’t afford to keep David Price but can they afford to lose him?

Watching the post-James Shields era unfold, it looks like a solid “yes”. The Rays knew they could trade Shields because of internal options like Chris Archer, not mention any big league starters they may get in return. This season, they hope to get more than 22 starts from the effective Alex Cobb, who missed considerable after taking a line drive to the head.

Behind their current starting five, the Rays claim Odorizzi, Alex Colome, and Enny Romero as potential big league starters. The depth is enviable as it allows the Rays to consider the unthinkable – moving their two top staters in successive years while still qualifying for the post-season.

This is the Rays model – the trade a key piece at the top of his value and manage to snare viable replacements at a lesser dollar figure. For David Price, it seems more like a matter of “when” rather than “if”. There is some question whether trading David Price now represents getting the most value for Tampa Bay, as many of Price’s numbers were down, not to mention spending time on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Leaking velocity, fewer missed bats, strikeouts down – might the Rays be getting away at the right time for a declining player? Hardly. Despite the insistence of some fans, front offices are not in the business of fleecing other teams in trades. Anybody who acquires David Price gets a power pitcher with excellent control (he tied for the lead among starters with a minuscule 3.7% walk rate in 2013) with a demonstrated ability to pitch well in big games and take on a big workload.

The Rays need to trade Price to keep their team operating as it has for the better part of a decade now. They also need Price if they want to win the World Series. What are the Rays true intentions? Can they approach the season as a slave to both masters? Recent history suggests the Rays are able to strike a balance between the two, though the actual World Series break through still eludes them.

Call me crazy, but I’d much rather go to battle with David Price rather than without him. But then again, that’s the easy way. The Rays have never really done things the easy way, have they?