Could the Chicago Cubs be in the David Price trade market?
Given the development of the Cubs’ top prospects and the increasing (apparent) financial restrictions that have, in tandem, pushed off the opening of the Cubs’ perceived competitive window to 2015 at the earliest, it seems a pretty big stretch to suggest that the Cubs should go after Price. After all, he’s under control for just two more years, and although they’re cost-controlled in arbitration, as a Super Two, Price’s last two arb years are going to be very pricey.
Plus, aren’t the Cubs looking to trade away their lesser facsimile of Price? Jeff Samardzija is about the same age, has plenty of upside, and also comes with two years of control. Wouldn’t trading away Samardzija and trading for Price just be robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Ken Rosenthal, nevertheless, makes the argument that the Cubs should go after Price, even as they ready themselves to ship out Samardzija. Rosenthal contends that adding Price would energize the Cubs’ fan base, and might be the team’s only available opportunity to land an ace in the next few years. He suggests trading Samardzija for a handful of prospects that could help acquire Price, or at least soften the blow of meeting the Rays’ exorbitant demands. You can read Rosenthal’s piece for his full contention, which he says is not based on any sourced information. He’s just thinking out loud.
With apologies to Rosenthal, and an appreciation that he’s starting interesting conversations … yeah, that’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. The only real upside Rosenthal offers is that Price would inject excitement into the Cubs’ fan base and would “probably” be more willing than Samardzija to sign a long-term extension (because his Vanderbilt pitching coach is now the Cubs’ minor league pitching coordinator? … and yet Samardzija is from Northwest Indiana and loves being a Cub? which of those two sounds more likely to sign an extension, in the abstract?). Thing is, even if fans would be excited by acquiring Price, unless such a deal was accompanied by significant other moves that produced a winning team in 2014, I don’t think you’re going to see a marked shift in the declining attendance to which Rosenthal points.
That’s not to say there is never a time when it makes sense to trade away one asset, and trade for a similar asset. Imagine that the Cubs were lukewarm on the near-term future of Samardzija, and believed Price was going to remain a Cy Young contender. Imagine further that the Cubs believed they had uniquely strong knowledge that a couple of their top tier prospects would soon be exposed as seriously flawed. It’s conceivable that the Cubs could convert Samardzija into prospects they prefer, while converting prospects they aren’t as high on for Price. Pull that off, and you could be in a better position at the Major League level and the minor league level.
Of course, that’s merely a strained example of how such a thing is possible.
In reality, you’d almost certainly be trading a considerable downgrade at the minor league level for the upgrade in the bigs. For my part, I’m not convinced that Price is going to be so much better than Samardzija over the next two years that it’s worth making that move for the Cubs. Nor am I convinced that Price would sign a reasonable extension with the Cubs (or that trading away your best prospects for the privilege of extending a starter who just lost two MPH off of his fastball and missed time with an arm injury, when that extension could approach $200 million, is a good idea).
In a vacuum, I’d love to see the Cubs picking up Price. But when you consider the risks associated with a long-term Price extension ($200 million versus $60 to $70 million for Samardzija), the cost of the two years of control ($30 million versus $13 million for Samardzija), the steep prospect acquisition cost (you aren’t going to get for Samardzija anything close to what it costs to get Price), and the general unease that accompanies Price’s 2013 season (velocity decline and arm issue – Samardzija is still pumping bullets and has had no arm issues), I think holding onto Samardzija is preferable to trading him and acquiring Price.
If the Cubs were hell bent on trading away Samardzija and replacing him with another pitcher, I’d much rather see that pitcher be Masahiro Tanaka, who will cost only money, and is just 25.
Either way, I still see the Samardzija decision as independent from everything else. Maybe acquiring Price makes sense. Maybe signing Tanaka makes sense. But I know that extending Samardzija on a reasonable deal makes sense. And I know that, if a reasonable deal can’t be struck, trading him for top-level prospects makes sense. I also know that simply holding onto Samardzija for now and reevaluating in July makes sense, too.