The Rays should trade David Price for shiny, inexpensive prospects. At least, that's the conventional wisdom. They'll never sign the left-hander to an extension, and he can be dealt for some of baseball's best minor-league talent. The Rays would then turn that minor-league talent into major-league talent that's underpaid for five or six seasons. It's the baseball version of geese fertilizing the same grass they eat -- a completely renewable and dependable resource.
Said an AL scout: "That's Tampa's M.O. to keep their operation sustainable and competitive with their budget. Those guys haven't drafted very well in the past 5-6 years, so these trades are the way they replenish their system."
There are a lot of reasons why the Rays would trade Price, and it's why Angels writers are speculating, Nationals writers are exploring deals, and Price himself is resigned to an eventual trade. It's almost as if the trade has already happened, and we're just waiting for the ESPN special so Price can reveal his new team on live TV.
What we haven't heard, though, is an argument why the Rays should keep Price. I'll start:
David Price is a very good baseball player, and the Rays are better with him on the team.
There. One sentence.
When people talk about a Price trade as if it's inevitable, it's almost like there's an unspoken idea that the Rays are immune from the ups and downs of normal teams. It assumes that because the Rays are the smartest kids in the room, they'll continue churning out talent and trading good players for good prospects who turn into good players they can trade for good prospects.
But even though they have the advantages of Evan Longoria, a pipeline of pitching, and a bright front office, there are still two things going against them:
1. There's still the disadvantage of being a low-payroll team. They've been excellent and thrifty for each of the last six years, and you'd like to think they could keep it up indefinitely. But being a low-payroll team is a pain the butt. They have to futz with players like James Loney and hope they're right. More often than not, they are. But there's a disadvantage of not being able to spend for complementary players like a normal team. One of these years they'll guess wrong.
Another way to put it is that the Rays didn't get Longoria and Price by being smarter. They got them by being awful. If those top picks don't come around, the Rays will have to be twice as clever.
2. They're still a baseball team. They still play baseball. And baseball is a jerk. Being the smartest kids in the room doesn't always work. Billy Beane's A's suffered three straight under-.500 seasons from 2007 to 2009. He was the same GM with the same strengths back then, but baseball didn't cooperate. The A's took smart chances (Mike Piazza as DH, Shannon Stewart, Esteban Loaiza) that didn't pay off, and key players were injured all year. It took them three seasons to recover.
That can always happen to the Rays. The Loney of 2013 could just have easily have been the Loney of 2012. Key players can get hurt, even more than expected. Teams can falter quickly. Look at the Twins. Look at the Angels, White Sox, and Brewers. The Rays are smarter than the rest of baseball, but they aren't magic.
For the next two seasons, 68 starts or so, they can keep Price around. The Rays, already an outstanding team, would get to stay roughly as outstanding. And the odds are excellent that two years of David Price from 2014-2015 will mean a lot more than the six years of whatever prospects they get back. There's a chance the prospects go full LaPorta. There's a chance that even if the prospects do pan out, the Rays will be in a bit of a lull and unable to use their contributions as well as they can use Price's next year.
The Rays don't have the same window as other teams, and I have more confidence in their front office than almost any other in baseball. But there's still a window. No team should assume they can keep 90-win success up forever, especially when the team in question isn't going to crack the $75 million barrier anytime soon. So when you're looking at a 90-win season in the face and you get the chance to enjoy the services of Price, one of the very best pitchers in baseball, you almost have to take it.
DRaysBay has an amazingly thorough piece on what teams give up for starting pitchers like Price on the trade market. Short answer: a lot. The odds are good that a package for Price would net substantial value for the Rays. There might be offers they can't refuse. This article would have played last year, too, if you switch "James Shields" in for "David Price." If there's another Wil Myers out there, the Rays won't have a choice.
But wins in 2016 and 2017 feel so ... abstract compared to what we're expecting from the Rays next year. If there aren't proposals that absolutely floor the Rays, they should forge ahead with Price as if they were a typical good team, just tickled to have their very own ace. The Rays might trade Price. But I don't know if they have to. I'm pretty convinced they shouldn't want to, either.