David Price comes up a lot around here for a guy in another league who isn’t a free agent for another year and a half. For the most part, I’ve said all I’ve got to say, but external forces conspire to keep bringing me back to the well.
Today’s edition is from Ken Rosenthal, and it’s as pointed as it gets: “Trading for Price would be right move for Cubs.” That’s the headline, and the thrust of Rosenthal’s piece. The Cubs need pitching, the Cubs have money, the Cubs have position players to trade, and Price would probably consider signing an extension with the Cubs.
And all I can say is: no, no, no, no, no, no. NO.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Price on the Cubs in 2015. Despite a drop in velocity, which has ticked back up lately, Price is having the best year of his career. He’ll be 29 next year, and could be the ace of a competitive Cubs team from 2015 and on for several years thereafter. I totally get the merit in Price.
The problem, as I’ve emphasized before, is that trading for him right now squanders assets. Rosenthal, himself, acknowledges that other teams – competitive teams – would likely be willing to pay more for Price, and the Cubs would have to beat that. But what Rosenthal doesn’t do is dig down enough into just how problematic that issue is for a non-competitive team like the Cubs. It’s a rare misstep for a guy whose work I respect, and who is usually incredibly thoughtful and insightful.
Consider it this way: for the Cubs, getting Price the rest of the way in 2014 is, at best, a non-event, since the team is not making the playoffs this year, with or without Price. Indeed, I’d argue that getting Price in 2014 could be a net drag on the Cubs long-term, but I don’t want to get into a dispute on the merits of tanking right now.
Thus, the entirety of value for the Cubs on Price is (1) his performance in 2015, and (2) the first crack at extending him. On number two, as we’ve seen time and time again with mega contracts and extension for pitchers, the “value” of getting the first chance to possibly make a big mistake is specious, at best.
So, what the Cubs would really be acquiring is Price in 2015, when he’ll make about $20 million in arbitration. Price, through 155 innings this year, has accumulated 3.5 WAR, putting him on pace for something around 5.0 WAR this year. Let’s be super generous and say he duplicates that next year. With a win value of about $6 million, that puts Price’s projected value in 2015 at about $30 million – or a surplus value of $10 million.
That’s it. That’s all the Cubs would be getting in trade.
And to get it, they’d have to pay the price of teams that are also trying to get Price’s enormous 2014 value. For a team already in contention, the value of an incremental win – i.e., adding a win from 90 to 91 or 88 to 89, etc. – is hard to measure, but it is significant. If we’re conservative and say it’s just $10 million per win, that means Price, on the right team, could be worth as much as $15 or $20 million in surplus value this year.
In other words, Price’s value in trade to a team like the Cardinals could be three times as much as to the Cubs. And that’s the price the Cubs would have to pay to get their 1/3 value.
Think of it like giving up Addison Russell to get pitcher worth 1/3 of Addison Russell to the Cubs. Why would the Cubs do that? Because it’s a flashy name? Because there are no other pitchers out there after this season or next? Because there’s a chance that Price will love the Cubs so much that he’ll immediately sign a team-friendly extension and then stay healthy and productive for another eight years?
David Price is an awesome pitcher, and I can’t wait to see how the chips fall after this season (as I’ve written, maybe we’re talking about a Price trade this Winter). But trading for Price right now would require the Cubs to pay an uber premium price for an asset they can’t use. That’s a quick path to unnecessarily depleting the very asset pool you’ve worked so hard, and sacrificed so much, to build up.