Although we’re still a good few weeks away from the time when we might reasonably first see teams start selling, being that the draft has passed, those plans are starting to kick into gear.
For the Chicago Cubs, who remain among the worst teams – by record, of course – in baseball, the rotation figures to be among their primary stores of goods for a-sellin’. Without an extension in place with Jeff Samardzija, and with Jason Hammel pitching out of his mind on a one-year deal, it’s a reasonable assumption at this point that both gents will be sporting new colors come August, if not sooner.
… but forget all that noise, says Ken Rosenthal. The Cubs should be thinking about trading FOR a pitcher, in Rosenthal’s opinion. Specifically, the Cubs should trade for soon-to-be-available ace David Price, and then extend him. Rosenthal concedes this is an unlikely approach, but he believes it is a way for the Cubs to improve their pitching situation and demonstrate a readiness to spend and compete.
The Rays are all but done in the AL East, and, with a huge final arbitration bump on the way in 2015 and an expensive contract thereafter, they’re highly likely to shop Price this Summer. Price makes $14 million this year, and figures to make around $18 million next year. From there, he’d be a 30-year-old free agent.
Price has dealt with some highly-publicized velocity drops this year – after sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball for years, he was down in the 93.5mph range last year, and is down to about 93mph this year – but his strikeout rate is the best of his career (26.8%), and his walk rate is similarly the best its ever been (2.4%). He’s been plenty effective.
So, should the Cubs jump right now?
Sweet heavens no.
First of all, if the Cubs were going to commit big money to a pitcher, it would be Jeff Samardzija, who requires 0 prospects to acquire (to his credit, Rosenthal suggests the Cubs trade for Price AND extend Samardzija). Second, if Price is dealt mid-season, his value in 2014 to the acquiring team will baked into the price. In other words, the Cubs, for whom Price would provide little value in 2014, would have to outbid teams for whom Price would provide *enormous* value in 2014 (i.e., playoff contenders). That would be a silly price to pay for one year of Price, and then the right to try and extend him for a massive contract. Why not just shoot for the moon this offseason and try and sign Max Scherzer? The dollars might be about the same, but the Cubs don’t have to give up a huge price in prospects.
(If Price goes untraded this year, then maybe we can talk about an offseason deal.)
If Price is traded in-season this year, I cannot reasonably see the Cubs as a suitor.
Monitoring Price’s trade market, however, will be important for the Cubs, as he – and James Shields, in all likelihood, in there somewhere – will be the top arm on the market, with Samardzija just behind. I can spin an argument that Samardzija is actually the better total package, depending on the receiving team, but I’ll leave that alone for now. (And, before you say it, no: the relative impact to the Samardzija market that the Cubs could effectuate by taking Price off of the market in a trade would not net out the price they paid to get Price in the first place. Besides, if Samardzija goes to the AL East – very possible, as we’ve seen in repeated rumors, there’s not likely to be conflict in the market anyway, since the Rays probably wouldn’t be trading Price in the division.)
There will be a number of teams looking to pick up an arm this Summer, and, for most, it’s a zero sum game: once they get theirs, they’ll be done getting arms. Wherever Price goes, the Cubs will likely have lost a potential buyer.