The Cardinals have been tied to a lot of players over the last few weeks, including Kurt Suzuki, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Troy Tulowitzki. The “Cardinal Trade Target” series looks at these players and determines realistically what the player would bring to the team and what the possible cost would be to acquire the player. Next up is Tampa Bay Ray ace David Price.
Price was the first overall pick of the 2007 draft out of Vanderbilt University; he was the consensus best player available in the draft. After a year in the minors, Price made his MLB debut in September of 2008 and snuck his way onto the Rays post-season roster. Price has lived up to the draft hype; the 4 time All Star was the 2012 AL Cy Young winner for leading the league with 20 wins and a 2.56 ERA. This season, he’s 11-7 with a 3.08 ERA and leading the league with 183 strikeouts.
Price has been in trade rumors for the last year because he’s getting too expensive for the cost conscious Rays; he’s making $14M this season and is arbitration eligible next year. He’ll be a free agent after the 2015 season.
Since he’s under team control for 2015, he’s a very attractive trade piece; teams can afford to make a big trade for the hurler knowing he’ll be around next year and they can make a qualifying offer after 2015. The qualifying offer piece is key because the team can gain a draft pick if they do not re-sign him; in the case of other pitchers, like Jon Lester, a team cannot make a qualifying offer if the player has been with the team for less than a full season.
The package the Rays receive will be substantial based off the last time they were in this situation. The Rays traded starter James Shields, along with pitcher Wade Davis and infielder Elliott Johnson, to the Royals for outfield prospect Wil Myers, starting pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, and minor league infielder Patrick Leonard (a low level prospect at the time). Myers was the best hitting prospect in the game at the time of the deal. Odorizzi was a top 50 prospect. Montgomery was once considered a top 100 prospect, but was having control issues; the Rays took a gamble here that hasn’t paid off.
While they did include Davis and Johnson in the deal, Shields was the main component. The Rays could receive a similar package for Price alone. Shields has never won a Cy Young award, never led the league in a major category, and has only made 1 All Star appearance. Price is a superior pitcher. Price, 28, is also 4 years younger than Shields (when the deal was made for Shields, he was 30).
The Cardinals have the pieces to make a similar trade. Bob Nightengale believes a deal of Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller, and the Cardinals competitive balance draft pick could get the lefty. That could be a solid haul that many teams couldn’t match.
The deal could expand beyond that too. If the Cardinals were looking for an offensive upgrade in the same deal, something could probably we worked out. Reports of the Cardinals interest in Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria have been floating around for the last two months. Adding either player would almost guarantee dealing Kolten Wong, especially if it’s Longoria. Buster Olney has reported that the Longoria part has been within the Cardinals and not something that they have spoken to the Rays about.
While adding Price could be huge for the team, there are payroll concerns here. He’s going to make close to $18M next season and more if they can extend him (we’ll get to that too). It’s almost assured that the team would have to shed some payroll to make that happen. It would be even more important if Longoria would be added to the deal, as he’s locked up through 2023 for some substantial money.
Zobrist would be more doable, as he’s a free agent after the season. Adding Wong to a deal for a Band-Aid like Zobrist would not be good for the future of the organization. Middle infielders, specifically second basemen, have been hard for the team to develop in recent history and Wong could be pretty good once he’s a few years into the league.
It’s been implied that if the Cardinals were to make a deal for Price, they’d like to have some feeling of certainty that the pitcher will be around past 2015. It doesn’t mean that they’d request a negotiation window to complete the trade, but more gauging the chances they would be able to retain the pitcher after 2015.
Many other teams have checked on Price, with the Dodgers and Mariners being frontrunners with the Cardinals; they all have similar MLB-ready prospects that could help the Rays now. The Blue Jays, Giants and Indians have shown interest but are considered longshots; the Cubs have also been mentioned, but it doesn’t make sense for them at this point of rebuilding.
Zobrist is getting interest from the Giants, Reds, Blue Jays and Mariners.