In a vacuum, there's not a team in baseball that wouldn't like to have David Price. Based on talent alone, he's one of the game's true aces and would have a spot reserved for him in any rotation in the game.
Baseball, of course, is not played in a vacuum, and there are many other variables that factor in to whether or not a team has realistic interest in David Price. Be it their record in the standings, their payroll, or his impending free agency in a year and two months, Price is not a fit for every team right now in his current state, regardless of his talent. It's the economics of baseball that make him less desirable to some than others.
Some of this will change in a matter of months. The re-setting of the standings back to 0-0 come November has a wonderful effect on the state of a team. There are organizations, the Rangers and Red Sox perhaps among the top of the list, who could very well have interest in a player like Price for next season, when they are likely to be competitive, but have little use for him this year in what have turned out to be lost seasons. There are others still, teams like the Padres and Twins come to mind, who are far enough away form contention that won't have interest in Price even with the optimism of a blank slate in front of them.
But the Tampa Bay Rays are looking to move Price now, this season, before the trade deadline in 10 days, because with more than just two months remaining on his contract and Price pitching well, his value will never be higher. It diminishes with each passing day that brings him closer to becoming what is sure to be a very expensive free agent.
The Rays have done this before. They know the drill. They have a blueprint on how to trade a star player for prospects. It's a part of how they function, jettisoning their increasingly expensive stars who don't sign team-friendly deals early in their careers for future stars who might. It's a way to ensure they are always relatively competitive while functioning with a low payroll. It's not an ideal plan, but it's the best one for the resources with which they have to work.
We've seen them do this before, and we know what they want. The Rays want a package of players, but unlike most teams trading away veterans in July, the Rays are not in a full-scale rebuild. They don't want just any prospects - they need at least one who is ready to play in the majors right away. At the very least, he needs to be someone who can be an regular contributor to their 2015 roster, much like Wil Myers was as the centerpiece of the James Shields trade before the 2013 season.
That requirement further eliminates potential trade partners for the Rays. Even with some deep farm systems, there are many organizations that don't have a centerpiece player that will meet the Rays immediate requirements. Additionally, as the Addison Russell/Rays rumors show, one top prospect isn't going to be enough to get it done. The rest of the package will have to be significant as well. There have been rumors as well surrounding non-contending teams like the Cubs as potential suitors for Price, but I don't buy them. That's a deal that is more likely this off-season when there is time for extension talks during the negotiating process.
So for now, we need a potential contender with a major league-ready impact prospect and a few other second-tier prospects to include in the trade. Finding this may be harder than we think.
Lacking the Big Prospect
The Braves, Nationals, Brewers, Giants, Angels, Tigers, Yankees and Blue Jays could all be considered contenders to varying degrees, but none of them have the kind of ML ready impact prospect the Rays likely want. Only the Nationals, with Lucas Giolito, have a prospect talented enough to at least start a conversation, and he's a good enough prospect that the Rays would likely listen, but it would take a shift in their organizational philosophy to go that direction. The closest a team on this list would come to getting a deal done for Price would likely be the Blue Jays, with Aaron Sanchez currently in Triple-A, but with questions about his ability to remain a starter, he's likely just short of what the Rays are looking for.
One Big Prospect, but Not the Package
The Orioles and Indians both have the one key piece the Rays covet. For the Orioles, it's Dylan Bundy, who may not be ready to join their rotation right now, but will be soon and certainly could be by next season. He's not as major league ready as they may like, but he's pretty darn close and pretty darn good. For the Indians, it's Francisco Lindor, who could put a stop to the Rays revolving door at shortstop. He's still in Double-A, but his glove has been major league ready for years and could absolutely hold his own in the majors right now. At worst, he'd head to Triple-A for the rest of this year and open the season at Tropicana in 2015.
The problem for both teams is that there's a major drop off after that. The Orioles could offer prospects like Eduardo Rodriguez or the extremely-talented Hunter Harvey, but it's unlikely that they'd want to part with more than one top pitching prospect. The Orioles have virtually no impact position players in any of the top levels of their minor league system. Bundy may be enough to start the conversation, but they won't get much further than the A's did in the Russell conversation.
The have a little more to offer, though their best options are equally far from the majors. Clint Frazier would be enticing, but he's had an up=and-down season in Low-A ball this year and that would constitute trading the top two prospects in the system, something the Indians are unlikely to do. A package around Lindor and Tyler Naquin might be interesting, but it's not enough and the Indians system offers virtually no pitching, unless the Rays want to take a chance on Danny Salazar. Even still, it feels like it's a significant piece short.
The Pirates get their own category because they have the need and the talent to get it done, but probably won't. Their farm system has taken a hit with the injury to Jameson Taillon and the promotion of Gregory Polanco, but it is still strong. The Rays would probably ask for Polanco, which would get shot down quickly. Still, even among just prospects still in the minors, the Pirates may have enough. Nick Kingham doesn't have the highest ceiling, but he is just about major league ready and could join the Rays rotation next year. Tyler Glasnow has a much higher ceiling and will be in Double-A next year, not exactly major league ready but a good enough prospect to make the deal a possibility. The Pirates have enough depth that they could offer the Rays virtually any other combination of prospects they could desire, from Alen Hanson to Luis Heredia to Reese McGuire, just to name a few. It's a deep system with lots of flexibility.
But the Pirates won't do it. Neal Huntington has been remarkably conservative with his prospects, choosing to deal third-tier players for role-playing veterans rather than make a big splash. Taking on David Price and his payroll would signal a major shift in organizational philosophy and I'd be shocked to see the Pirates empty out the cupboard for just a year and two months. They've been thinking long-term for too long to shift now.
This leaves us with four teams with a legitimate shot at Price, but still some more so than others. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Mariners and Reds all believe themselves to be in contention and have at least one upper-echelon prospect in the top levels of their farm systems with which they could part.
In reverse order of likelihood:
Reds - The Reds are bleeding chips in a stacked NL Central and need more help on offense then on the mound, so they're not a strong candidate here. Still, they could get a deal done and a staff of Price-Cueto-Simon-Bailey in the post-season could be daunting. It would take Robert Stephenson to get a deal done, something the Reds are unlikely to do. He's not a perfect fit for the Rays either because, despite spending the entire season at Double-A, he's not quite major league ready and Opening Day 2015 would be aggressive. Still, he's a top talent and would pique the Rays interest, and coupled with some other strong prospects (a Stephenson/Jesse Winker package would be tough to turn down), the Reds could likely get this done if they so choose. They're more likely to go after a bat, but they could be a dark-horse for Price.
Cardinals - The Cardinals pride themselves on letting a player go a year to early rather than a year to late, and have been able to do so based on the strength of their farm system, the backbone of which is pitching. That alone would make a prospects-for-Price trade surprising based on their history. Still, they're getting threatened in the NL Central for the first time in a while and despite their incredible pitching depth, they seem to be searching for rotation answers. They have a prospect in Oscar Taveras who would be the best possible centerpiece for the Rays on the market, and plenty of additional depth to make a trade work. The question for the Cardinals is if they feel they need to make a move for Price to get a deal done or if they are comfortable chasing a pennant with Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez.
Mariners - We've been hearing the Price to the Mariners rumors since February, and at the center of them is Taijuan Walker, who is exactly the pitching prospect the Rays covet. He's young, he's great and he's ready. It's a reasonable question to ask why the Mariners wouldn't have just made this trade and had David Price all season if it was going to happen, but there's a certain "better late than never" quality to this deal. Walker would be the centerpiece but the rest of the trade would revolve around some former prospects who have struggled in the majors. Players like Nick Franklin have their value to the Rays and can still become quality major leaguers, but there's not a ton of impact ceiling in this deal after Walker. Additionally, losing Walker and adding Price makes the Mariners better, but only incrementally so. They'd be much better served keeping Walker and adding a right-handed bat to help their offense.
Dodgers - The Dodgers have the best package to offer the Rays, with Joc Pederson as the headliner. Pederson is a top prospect and would already be in the majors on almost any other team and would be in the Rays starting lineup tonight if the traded happened today. If they are parting with Pederson, it would probably take other top prospects like Corey Seager or Julio Urias off the table, but the Dodgers could still offer another major league-ready prospect in right-handed pitcher Zach Lee. He's not a big impact prospect, but he profiles as an innings-eater, has been in Triple-A all season, and would be ready when called upon by the Rays. The Dodgers don't really need Price, but since when have the Dodgers been concerned with what they really need? A healthy Josh Beckett (when he returns from the DL) gives them a full rotation, but no team could match up with a Kershaw-Price-Grienke rotation in the playoffs, and that may be enticing enough to get the Dodgers into action. They also have the money to essentially offer him a market-value extension and keep him for more than a year and two months.
With the expanded playoff system and increased parity, there are more buyers than sellers for the Rays, which should work to their advantage. Unfortunately, the market doesn't match up exceptionally well for their needs. The teams that have the biggest need for Price don't have the prospects to offer the Rays. The teams that have the prospects, don't necessarily have the need.
The Rays may be best served to wait until the off-season when there will be more suitors. The re-setting of the records will open up doors for more teams to be interested and the un-timed off-season will allow a potential trade partner to work out an extension with Price during the trade negotiations, something which rarely happens mid-season. The Rays are wise to try to trade Price when his value is highest, but they won't want to settle on a diminished package just to make the move now. If they can't get the value they want, they could be better served to wait until the winter, let the market reset itself, and try again.