As the Rays finally find their groove and continue to march toward respectability, the reality of economics and the trade deadline loom over the joyful feeling of playing well. Last night’s 5 – 1 win over the Minnesota Twins showed the Tampa squad at their best. David Price locked down Twins hitters with only four hits scattered over eight innings and the Rays hitters produced 13 hits, including a two-run shot by Sean Rodriguez. The happiness felt by Tampa Bay fans could be interrupted by the harsh slap of reality because the Rays remain 8.5 games out in the AL East and seven games behind in the wild card race. A deal involving Tampa Bay Rays ace left-hander David Price remains very likely and the Seattle Mariners appear to be a strong possibility as the landing spot for Price and perhaps also Ben Zobrist.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg allowed General Manager Andrew Friedman to push the club’s payroll past $80 million this season as everyone in the organization expected the club to contend for the post season. Although the Rays have played at a playoff level in July, going 10 – 4 thus far, the horrendous start to the season hangs like a dead weight on any playoff aspirations. With the club always lagging in attendance and revenues, pushing the payroll past $80 million only adds up if the team looks to be a decent bet for a post season slot. The Rays still have a slim chance, but weighing that slim chance against the reality of losing Price after next season without a harvest of prospects from a trade does not seem wise. The Tampa Bay Rays cannot afford to keep David Price after next season and they likewise cannot afford to let him sign elsewhere without something in return; therefore, a deadline deal involving Price looks inevitable and a possible trade to Seattle could help both clubs.
Seattle finds itself in a playoff battle in the now difficult AL West. The club currently sits in the second wild card position behind the potent Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels. After breaking the bank to sign 2B Robinson Cano, the Mariners need to win now to make the most out of their sizable investment. They currently field a strong pitching staff with ace Felix Hernandez and Hisahi Iwakuma at the top. Nevertheless, they could use a second ace to truly become a team built for playoff success. The best post season teams have two ace starters. While Iwakuma may be able to fill that role, Price is a definite second ace.
The linchpin of any trade between the Rays and the Mariners is Taijuan Walker. As with any trade of a gifted prospect, the Mariners must consider the MLB potential of the youngster against the reward for obtaining Price, perhaps on a rental basis if he does not wish to remain in Seattle after next season. The Rays are likely to demand Walker plus another top prospect such as 3B D.J. Peterson or hurler James Paxton. As an additional inducement for the M’s to make a move, the Rays might also offer up valued utility man Ben Zobrist, an All-Star in 2013.
All fans of the Tampa Bay Rays wish that budget realities could be ignored. No one wants to see David Price leave. Since the departure of James Shields, Price has been the hardworking veteran for the younger pitchers to emulate. In addition to his on the field excellence, the ace left hander is a valuable presence in the club house. If David Price must be dealt, and it appears he does, the Seattle Mariners are a strong possibility. The Seattle club could make use of Price’s considerable talents and they have the assets available to trade.
Commentary by William Costolo