It’s been suspected for a while, and the time has arrived, according to Buster Olney: the Tampa Bay Rays are ready to trade starter David Price.
Although no deal is close, the Rays would be open to moving Price any day now. That’s a pretty significant development, given the Chicago Cubs’ expected role over the next month as a seller. Price on the market not only represents competition for the Cubs’ assets, but it also puts another benchmark out there for the trade value of the Cubs’ pitchers, depending on who gets moved first.
As for the competition piece, if you’re buying, does Price trump all other options on the market? Will the Cubs have to wait until a team knows whether it can get Price before moving on to back-up options on the Cubs? Is this going to be a real pain for the Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel markets? I’m actually not so sure that this will hurt the Cubs in that way.
Depending on a team’s individual situation, Hammel could actually be the preference, given his impending free agency, and minimal financial cost. The acquisition price in trade, obviously, would be substantially reduced, as well. And the current performance is probably closer than you think: Hammel’s ERA is nearly a run lower than Price’s, their FIP’s are basically identical, and their WAR is in the same ballpark (2.5 for Price, 2.0 for Hammel).
That said, is Price the better pitcher right now? Of course. He’ll net a lot more in trade than would Hammel. But if a team is just looking for a rental, given the relative prices (and Price’s salary), there are teams out there that might prefer to try and get Hammel.
As for Price versus Samardzija, some pundits have argued that Samardzija is the better total package, even at the same acquisition cost. I’m not sure I’d quite make that argument, but they are very close in value when you consider everything.
Over the next 1.5 seasons, Price will make about $27 million, while Samardzija will make about $12 million. Price’s numbers this year are, for the most part, superior to Samardzija’s, they are quite close (Samardzija has the better ERA and FIP, Price the better xFIP and K/BB, and the WAR total is about even - 2.5 for Price, 2.3 for Samardzija). Price has seen his velocity decline in recent years, however, and has a significantly higher number of pitches on his arm than Samardzija.
If I’m a buyer in the Price/Samardzija market, I think I’d rather pick up Price. But the difference between the two is not so significant that I’d pay much more for Price. And if I’m a small market club without a ton of financial flexibility? I might feel like Samardzija is my only real option.
The other important angle on Price as market competition for the Cubs is the fact that the Rays would almost certainly prefer to deal Price outside of the AL East (and the AL East teams would probably prefer not to give their top prospects to the Rays). The could present the Cubs with a smoother path to dealing their arms – or at least Samardzija – given that a number of the top suitors for an arm are right there playing alongside the Rays.
All of this, though, is a reminder of how hard it can be to “jump the market,” even if you want to. As more teams decide they’re definitely out of the race, more pieces come available on the market. Which means that other teams want to wait to make a deal until they know what else they might be able to get. Which means the sellers want to wait to sell until they know which buyers they can market to. And so on, and so forth.
I still expect we’ll see a Jason Hammel deal in the coming weeks, and then a build up of rumors on Jeff Samardzija as the deadline approaches at the end of July. But you never know – it takes only one team with some great prospects that has its target list as (1) Price, (2) Hammel, (3) Samardzija to mess things up, because they really may prefer to wait on Price. And then the Cubs may prefer to wait on that team before moving Hammel.
As the Price market fleshes itself out in the coming days/weeks, we’ll follow it closely, as we could see overlap developing between the Cubs’ potential trading partners and the Rays’ potential trading partners. Your rooting interest? Probably that Price goes to the Cardinals for a king’s ransom.