As the Rays have struggled this season, most observers realized the budget conscious team would probably pull the trigger on a trade involving their ace left-hander David Price. The 1-14 swoon between the latter part of May and early June to push the team to the worst record in the major leagues appeared to seal Price’s fate. Starting the season with poor pitching and then lacking offense after the pitcher’s stabilized, the Tampa club looked jinxed. Now, a five game win streak with improved hitting muddles the David Price trade scenario for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays are constructed based on good defense and pitching, with just enough offense to generate wins. The margin for error is very slight. The team does not have the financial resources to add another bat when a player falls into a slump like division rivals such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The Rays have to make do with the guys on the roster or minor league call ups. Even call ups are used sparingly because using prospects too early can have financial implications down the road as players become arbitration eligible. Wil Myers was not called up last year until mid-June to assure an additional season prior to salary arbitration.
The five game win streak has been a relief for Manager Joe Madden and Rays fans. The streak has been fueled by the emergence of Jake Odorizzi as a quality starting pitcher after rough going earlier in the season. Last night against the Yankees Odorizzi surrendered three runs in 5 2/3 innings. Odorizzi was acquired with Wil Myers in the James Shields trade to the Kansas City Royals. He is finally showing the form that the Rays desired when they picked him up as part of the deal. The streak has also been fueled by timely hitting from a variety of players. Sean Rodriguez, starting at shortstop in place of the injured Yunel Escobar, hit a home run in the sixth inning to break a tie. The previous two games in the sweep of the Bronx Bombers were likewise helped by timely hitting from Logan Forsythe and James Loney.
General Manager Andrew Friedman now faces a difficult decision regarding Price. Most commentators believe that Price will likely be traded in the off-season no matter what the outcome of the current season. With Price eligible for arbitration after this season and becoming a free agent after 2015 without an expensive extension, the Rays cannot obtain a quality haul of prospects if they wait until the trade deadline next season to trade him. With the five game win streak and a possible return to respectability if not contention in the record challenged AL East, Friedman must muddle through a number of scenarios as he considers whether or not to trade David Price prior to the end of July trade deadline.
On the one hand, the team could possibly continue to win enough to climb into the playoff race. The club stands 9.5 games out of the AL East lead and 10 games out in the wild card chase. With the pitching already improved and the hitting heading in that direction, the club could continue to do well. The actual decision changing point could be Friedman’s determination of the different trade prospect trade hauls by pulling the trigger in July instead of waiting until the offseason. A team trading for Price now would have the benefit of his services for a longer period before free agency. Friedman could be balancing the value to the team and the fans of a potential run this season versus a reduction in the number of trade assets received in a later Price trade.
David Price certainly does not look forward to a possible trade and Rays fans also hope he stays through the season. An unfortunate reality for the cash strapped club is that they probably cannot afford to keep their ace beyond this season. While a welcome sign for win starved Rays’ fans, the recent win streak muddles the Tampa Bay club’s trade scenarios involving David Price. At least this is a better problem to solve than the woes confronting the team early in June.
Commentary by William Costolo