The Tampa Bay Rays had another excellent season in 2013, winning 90 games for the fifth time in six seasons, something that seemed nearly impossible during the club’s first ten years in existence, when the Rays lost 91 or more games each season, including more than 100 games three times. Obviously, winning is still somewhat new to the Rays organization, but it will continue to be something that they intend on doing, as the smart, creative thinkers in the front office manipulate their data and their finances to field a strong, perennial contender in the AL East.
With that being said, now is the time for the team to trade their best starting pitcher, David Price.
It isn’t a money thing. It isn’t something that improves the current roster. It has everything to do with the future of the franchise and the Rays’ success.
Prior to the 2013 season, the Rays traded James Shields, Wade Davis, and Elliot Johnson to the Kansas City Royals for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard. While Davis had an affordable contract and showed some signs of potential in 2012 out of the bullpen, the two years remaining on Shields’ contract was the primary focus of the deal for the Royals. The Rays were seeking major league ready talent and received Myers as the centerpiece of their return, a right-handed hitting slugger who compiled a whopping 37 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012, leaving him as the No.4 ranked prospect in baseball entering the 2013 season. Odorizzi has always had solid stuff and was likely to become a mid-rotation starter, while Montgomery, who was the 19th best prospect in baseball prior to the 2011 season (according to Baseball America), before injuries and control issues halted his progression. Myers was obviously the major part of the deal, and while they lost Shields, the team was in need of offensive help, which Myers bat certainly provided. The deal will make the Rays competitive for several seasons, but they need more help than just Myers and Odorizzi, and that is why Price must go.
In 2013, Chris Archer made 23 starts for the Rays, while Odorizzi made seven appearances (four starts), Alex Colome made three appearances (all starts). and Enny Romero made one appearance (a start), and all three of these starting pitching prospects will play a major role with the club going forward; however, the club’s number one prospect, Taylor Guerrieri, had Tommy John surgery and will likely miss all of 2014, on top of a second positive test for a drug of abuse, which leads to some character questions considering his already checkered past. Beyond Odorizzi, Colome, and Romero likely contributing in 2014 in some way, the rest of the Tampa Bay system is not where it has been in years past. Their top position prospect is shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, who missed nearly all of 2013 due to an injury to his left knee, a tremendous defensive shortstop with excellent speed who may not have a strong enough hit tool to be any more than a No.8 or No.9 hitter in the majors. The rest of the system doesn’t appear anywhere near ready to help the club, which could be a huge issue within the next couple of seasons when you consider that the Rays ranked in the bottom half of the AL in runs scored (9th).
The Rays need bats, not necessarily major league ready bats but bats that will be ready to help the club within the next two to three years. However, landing position players with team-control is also a sufficient alternative. Within the top 20 players in the system (according to MLB.com), the Rays have 10 starting pitching prospects, all of whom have posted solid minor league numbers and have very good stuff, including: Blake Snell, Ryne Stanek, Jeff Ames, Jesse Hahn, Felipe Rivero, and the previously mentioned Guerrieri, Odorizzi, Colome, Montgomery, and Romero. Only Lee, Mikie Mahtook, and Tim Beckham, the failed No.1 overall pick from the 2008 MLB Draft, have sniffed competition above Double-A among the 10 position prospects on the list. To maintain strong pitching and enough offense to win games in the AL East, the Rays must deal from their strength, and that is David Price.
While creating potential trade scenarios is always fun, it is also very unpredictable, as you never know what teams are actually thinking when it comes to their long-term outlook on a given player. With that being said, here are a few deals that would make sense for the Rays:
Price to the Texas Rangers for Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, and Lewis Brinson. Profar could take over second base in 2014, pushing Ben Zobrist to left field, keeping Myers in right and Desmond Jennings in center. Yunel Escobar is under contract for the 2014 season at $5 million and Profar can move to short in 2015, giving Odor another season to fine tune his skills at second. Brinson is an absolute wild card. He has tremendous tools but no true bat to ball skills at this point, which led to his 191 strikeouts in 447 at-bats in 2013 for Hickory.
Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Scott Schebler. Pederson is near ready to step in and play left, with Jennings manning center field, and has the ability to drive the ball and utilize his speed to the tune of several 20 HR/20 SB seasons. Seager could be a future star on the left side of the infield, but he may not be able to handle short long-term and Evan Longoria is at third, so…first base or an outfield corner could still allow Seager to be useful – he will be capable of those types of numbers. Schebler had 69 extra-base hits in the California League in 2013 at the age of 22, while striking out 140 times. He could be useful since he hit .301 against left-handers and .294 against right-handers, but after a pretty sad season in 2012, he is a gamble as a prospect when you consider that his lone productive season was in a hitter’s paradise.
Price to the Cleveland Indians for Francisco Lindor, Danny Salazar, Tyler Naquin, and C.C. Lee. Lindor, like Profar, would be a tremendous addition at shortstop for the long haul. He may not hit 15-20 home runs, but he has great on-base skills and contact ability as a hitter, setting the table for the middle of the order from the top of the lineup. Salazar is a beast and while the Rays may not have a need for another arm, Salazar could be a solid No.2 starter for years to come (and the Indians don’t really have a better prospect to team with Lindor to make this a good deal). Naquin is an above-average defender with a strong arm who may never hit enough to be more than a No.4 outfielder. He does have solid on-base skills but if he turns into a Sam Fuld type of player, the Rays should be thrilled – and the Rays manage to get a lot out of players like Fuld. Lee had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and is a very good relief prospect as the final piece.
While none of these trades will net the Rays 15-20 wins like David Price could in 2014, the club has to look beyond 2014, as they did in 2013 when they traded another top of the rotation starter in James Shields for several solid pieces and spare parts. The baseball operations and player development staff of the Rays is very intelligent and they likely have several ideas laid out involving a potential deal for David Price this winter. As rumors fly in the coming weeks of the hot stove season, Rays fans can only hope that the haul that the club could net is as strong as some of these mentioned above.
With a system that isn’t as strong as it once was, now is the time for the Tampa Bay Rays to make this move.
Below you will find the Mid-Season Top 50 prospects in baseball (as of 6/26/2013). This list is an update to my offseason Top 100 list and excludes players that will, likely, earn enough service time to not qualify as a prospect after the 2013 season (Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers, Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, and others from the original list have been excluded. Feel free to compare.).