Do you feel that? That's momentum picking up for the inevitable David Price trade? Do you hear that? That's smart teams running and hiding from the Rays like the citizens of Tokyo running from Godzilla.
David Price is the best player available this off-season on either the trade or free-agent markets. Sure Jacoby Ellsbury got tons of money because he's now controllable for almost two presidential terms, but two years of Price may be the best deal on the market - assuming you have the prospects to get him.
No one deals with the Rays to get a good deal. At this point, opposing GM's go into negotiations with the Rays assuming their trade will be lampooned and generally regarded the lesser in the deal, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't partake anyway. The Rays have made a habit of trading away some of the most valuable assets on the market because they can't afford to hold on to them. Fellow low-budget teams shouldn't be trading partners with the Rays and should instead imitate them in their methods, but there are plenty of available trading partners who can dance with the Rays, take on their increasingly expensive assets, and set themselves up to be contenders.
Of course, the trade market is not limited just to the big spending teams, and the Rays demonstrated last season when they sent James Shields to the Royals that they don't mind trading with other low-budget teams who fail to understand their methodology. This willingness leaves Price's destination as an open-ended book.
It also leaves the Rays with plenty of trade partners and a plethora of prospect combinations from which to choose. The Rays essentially have their pick of future prospects in off-season dealings and can hold out for exactly the player they want.
If previous deals are any indication, especially the Shields deal, the Rays will hold out for the trade that nets them the biggest single piece in return, and want something that is major league ready. We can't no for sure, but there could have been other deals out there for Shields last off-season. It's probably safe to say, however, that there wasn't a bigger single player available for them than Wil Myers.
Following that blueprint, here are some serious possibilities for the Rays and Price.
If my theory is true that the Rays will want to hold out for the single biggest prospect, then the Dodgers may not be able to compete. Joc Pederson is their top prospect, and while he spent the entire season in Double-A, he wont be ready to insert into the lineup in June the way Myers was. Right-hander Zach Lee is a guy the Rays would probably love, as a prototypical strike-thrower, but he doesn't have a high enough ceiling to be the centerpiece for Price. If the Dodgers want to make a move, Lee is a strong candidate to be involved, but he won't get it done alone.
Corey Seager is a player the Rays may like, but he's expected to outgrow shortstop and slide over to third base, which would present a problem within the Rays system. He's far enough away that it isn't enough of a deterrent to keep them from wanting him, but it does diminish some of his value to the Rays. Similarly, 17-year-old Julio Urias, who burst onto the scene this year by dominating the full-season Midwest League, is a prospect every organization would have interest in but is too far away for the Rays to be able to count on him anytime soon. He's have to be a secondary piece to a trade because of the risk involved.
As I wrote back in October in a similar article (it's amazing how much changes in two months and how much stays the same), I don't think the Rays and Dodgers get a deal done without the Dodgers sending one of their extra major league outfielders over (Matt Kemp, Andre Either, or Carl Crawford) and eating most of the salary involved. Such a move would give the Rays the impact talent they need now as well as perhaps a prospect or two, depending on the finances and player involved.
The Pirates have the goods, but do they have the desire?
I believe not. The Pirates have done well to model themselves after the Rays in the way they develop and maintain their young stars, even to the point of extending MVP Andrew McCutchen with a contract almost as team-friendly as the initial extension given to Evan Longoria. Going after David Price for two years and giving up some of their top prospects would represent a deviation from the plan even more drastic than what the Rays did last season.
Still, if they want to, they can control the market for Price and get a trade done tomorrow. They have the prospects.
Tim Williams of PiratesProspects.com says "it would almost certainly take a top prospect like Jameson Taillon or Gregory Polanco to get Price, and possibly would require both players," which is absolutely correct. Either could be in the majors by June and contributing to the Rays at league minimum, which fits their model perfectly. It's also exactly what the Pirates need.
The Pirates have plenty of other talented prospects if the Rays are willing to move past Taillon and Polanco, but that's unlikely. Tyler Glasnow emerged this season as a prospect that some even prefer over Taillon. He's much further away, having just finished his first year of full-season ball, but there's a nice ceiling there. Alen Hanson won't be a shortstop much longer, but many teams like the bat and he could land at second base. Luis Heredia and Josh Bell are both incredibly young and far away, but they are also very talented. The Pirates may not want to part with either of them, however, after investing heavily in both on the amateur market.
The Pirates are in the driver's seat here, but they should turn the car around and drive away.
A story came out on Wednesday that the Diamondbacks are looking for an ace but won't move top prospect Archie Bradley in order to land one. That's cute. It's also a waste of time.
Price is the only ace on the market and it's going to take Bradley to get him. Whether the Diamondbacks should make such a trade is a totally different story, but you can be almost certain that the Rays would want Bradley back in return.
They do have left-hander Tyler Skaggs to deal, and Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes that they are willing to part with him, giving them a glimer of hope if they still want Price. Skaggs is major league ready and should be a quality mid-rotation starter, something that would definitely interest the Rays. Still, exchanging Skaggs for Bradley would force Diamondbacks to include a lot of additional talent into any deal for Price.
The Diamondbacks do have another piece that the Rays may like in shortstop prospect Chris Owings. The Rays were pleased with what they got out of Yunel Escobar this season, but he's one of their more expensive players and is still a below-average offensive player. Having just completed a full season of Triple-A in which he posted an .841 OPS, Owings could replace him for much cheaper as soon as the Rays were ready.
A deal featuring Skaggs and Owings could be intriguing, giving the Rays a package of guys they can use right away. If they shop around, I'm sure the Rays can find a deal involving a single better player, but that's a nice combination that could pique the Rays interest.
If the Mariners make Walker available, it doesn't give the rest of the baseball world much hope to complete a deal. Walker would be the single best piece available to the Mariners, even better than Polanco or Taillon (although not as good as both together).
Dave Cameron of USS Mariner doesn't like the idea of a Walker-for-Price deal, and I have to agree with him. Giving up on Walker could only be done if the Mariners believe they are going to truly compete for a title during Price's two years. Are they? Can he hit too?
On the Rays side of things, however, Walker is exactly the type of prospect they are looking for and could have an impact in 2014 similar to what Myers did in 2013. There are some who see Walker as a potential ace in his own right, but at the very least he should settle in as a solid number two starter and someone the Rays can get some extremely cheap value of for the next 3-4 seasons before starting this process all over again.
If they can't win in the next two years, the Mariners shouldn't part with Walker. It's that simple. It also doesn't mean they won't.
The Braves have been mentioned enough as a dark-horse candidate for Price that they no longer fit the definition, but in the end, I just don't think they have the available major league-ready talent to get a trade done. Perhaps no team would be more highly impacted by landing Price than the Braves, but without trading away a piece of their current lineup or rotation, it's difficult to envision a deal.
The best piece the Braves can offer from their farm system that is major league ready (or close to it) is Christian Bethancourt, which simply won't work. Including Julio Teheran or Alex Wood could make things interesting, but it's unlikely to happen.
The Braves will be inquiring on Price, if they haven't already, but they'll have to get real creative to make it happen.