David Price has probably thrown his last pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays.
It’s not that the 2012 AL Cy Young winner is about to become a free agent. It’s that he’s two years shy of that status.
Price will be traded this winter because (a) he is arbitration expensive (he can expect to get at least $30 million over the next two seasons) and the Rays will struggle to fit him into their bottom-tier payroll and (b) the trade packages figure to be richer when the receiving team has him for two years rather than one.
This is part of The Rays Way. It’s not as glamorous as The Cardinals Way of today, or The Orioles Way of the 1970s, or even The Twins Way last decade, but it’s kept the excessively low-budget Rays in contention.
They traded Matt Garza to the Cubs three years before free agency, and netted, among others, prospect pitcher Chris Archer. This year, as Garza prepped for his first foray into the open market with a 10-6, 3.82 record in 155 innings, Archer was 9-7, 3.22 in 128 innings as a rookie — for about $9 million less in salary.
They traded James Shields two years before free agency in a multi-piece package that brought back likely Rookie of the Year Wil Myers. Shields gave Kansas City everything it could have expected (13-9, 3.15 while leading the American League in starts and innings).
But in the fullness of time, the Royals will regret that trade. Shields contract expires after the 2014 season, and Myers will be a fixture in the Tampa Bay lineup for years. The only way to justify the deal for Kansas City will be if the Royals win something with Shields, and they still aren’t good enough for that dream.
Price is better than Shields or Garza. We should expect the Rays to seek a return for their left-hander that is at least equal to what they got for the other two.