Tampa Bay Rays fans were understandably shocked at the news of their 5-year ace in David Price being traded just minutes before last Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline.
But the shock comes from a different place this time around.
Rays fans have both heard and seen this song and dance. A player comes up, performs, becomes too expensive, and gets traded. Delmon Young, Edwin Jackson, Matt Garza, James Shields, and now Price, who went to the Detroit Tigers in a three team deal with the Seattle Mariners, which yielded Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly, and prospect Willy Adames.
Needless to say, we all saw this coming, so what’s the big deal?
We have to look at the Shields trade to better understand this. In December 2012, the Rays famously traded him along with Wade Davis for a hefty package of prospects that included 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, the Rays’ current 4th Starter Jake Odorizzi, and mid-level prospects Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard.
Before we compare these two returns apples to apples, we need to take two factors into consideration.
First, The Shields trade, at its core, was a one for one trade for Myers. The fact is, the Kansas City Royals wanted Davis as well, and threw in the other prospects as a result. Had the trade been the former, no one would be talking about Price’s return being light.
Second, we must look at the pitching market. Though Shields isn’t a better pitcher than Price, at the time, he was more sought after because of the lack of pitching available. Had the Rays waited until the offseason the trade Price, they would have to compete with the signings of Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, possibly Johnny Cueto and Yovani Gallardo (who have club options) and, oh yeah, Shields too.
The Rays are hot; we know that, the hottest team in baseball since June 10th in fact. But if the Rays plan to compete for the rest of this year and beyond, this deal was a necessary evil.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the trade itself.
The Rays part ways with Price, and only Price. If they had also traded, say, Ben Zobrist, then you could make the case that they could’ve squeezed another prospect like Taijuan Walker, but that’s not the case here. Holding onto Zobrist shows the organization’s confidence in current band of players to win now.
Smyly, a former 2nd round draft pick, is a crafty lefty with a high strikeout rate, and is under team control until 2018. He fits nicely into the 3rd or 4th slot in the Rays rotation. He either develops into a front-line starter, or he is a stopgap, for younger pitching prospects on the way up. Either way, he is a nice player, and is not meant to replace Price. The Rays front office believes that Alex Cobb and Chris Archer will step up and fill the void in the top of the rotation. Let’s also not forget that Matt Moore, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, will be back healthy sometime in mid-2015.
Next, there’s Nick Franklin. Last offseason, the Mariners were the favorite to get Price, and Franklin was rumored to be part of the deal. The fact that the Rays were still able to get their man while dealing Price to another team just goes to show just how savvy the Rays front office is. Franklin is versatile enough to play many different positions, and has shown enough pop in his bat to be in the lineup every day. Both Franklin and Smyly have proven they can contribute at the Major League level while still having upside.
Finally, there is Adames, the key to the deal. The wiry 18 year old is already in A ball and has shown defensive skills good enough to stay at shortstop, and has shown a bat good enough that leads scouts to believe he will get better as he gains strength. It may not seem like it, but he is the centerpiece of this trade.
The Rays front office has always done an amazing job at focusing of the present, while also keeping one eye on the future. On the surface, it seems like they may have given Price away, but dig a little deeper and you will uncover this deals many layers. In my opinion, the Rays may have pulled off their best heist yet.
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