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.
Which means the Rays are likely to take aim at the Twins. Minnesota not only has an obvious lack of quality starting pitchers, they have two of the consensus top three prospects in the minors in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.
But if either of those two are part of the price tag the Rays put on Price, the Twins should be emphatic in saying “no.”.
The Twins should not delude themselves into thinking they’re an ace pitcher away from contention. They aren’t. They are at least two starters and a rebuilt lineup away. Buxton and Sano don’t pitch, but they can be part of that rebuilt lineup.
Now, if the Rays will talk about a package featuring, let us say, Eddie Rosario and one of the Twins top pitching prospects, that’s another thing. (Kohl Stewart, last summer’s No. 4 overall pick, can’t be traded this winter.)
I expect the Rays will have their sights set higher than that, but the rest of baseball has probably noticed how well the Rays made out in the Shields and Garza deals.
Edward Thoma (344-6377; email@example.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.