Will David Price Push for a Trade From Rays?
Anyone who watched last year's American League Championship Series remembers the spot-on heroics of young pitcher David Price. The Tampa Bay rookie, a September call-up, served as the Rays' late-inning secret weapon, setting down a handful of Red Sox and, in the World Series, Phillies in truly key spots.
The relief cameos by Price were seen as temporary, a way for the capricious would-be ace to contribute to a playoff squad before he was ready to start.
Some four months later, Price is adamant that he's ready to be a big league starter, and he's upset that Tampa Bay is already laying the ground work for him to spend more time at the AAA level. Just listen to what he told St. Petersburg Times writers Marc Topkin and Joe Smith yesterday:
"It's not very fun if I'm not here competing for a job," Price said Monday. "That's what I came here for, to compete for that fifth spot, and that's what I want to do. ... I want them to not be able to look me in the eyes at the end of spring training and tell me I'm going to (Triple-A) Durham."
If you look at the numbers, Price has a legitimate beef. In his first spring outing on Saturday, Price was impressive in two scoreless innings, baffling Blue Jays batters despite a serious lack of control.
That's how good Price is already: He can dominate a game even when he doesn't have the control he expects. So why would the Rays try and stifle him with another tour through AAA?
The answer has less to do with Price than it does with Tampa Bay's roster and future contractual concerns. Among the competitors for the team's fifth starter's job, Tampa Bay has two strong prospects who are out of minor league options: Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel. That's not to mention Carlos Hernandez, who is also making a push for the role.
With too many bodies vying to be the fifth starter and long reliever, somebody will have to sit in the minor leagues. Understandably, the Rays would like Price to be that guy. It keeps them from having to trade or release one of either Niemann or Hammel (assuming Hernandez doesn't win the job).
For his part, Rays manager Joe Maddon is doing nothing to assure Price he'll be given a complete appraisal and shot at the job, either.
"If he just blows people away, things obviously can change," Maddon said. "We can change our thinking. ... (But) we still consider him in the development process. ... If you were watching the playoffs last year, you see him as the finished product, but we don't necessarily see it there yet."
There's also an ancillary benefit for the Rays down the road: Keeping Price in AAA will keep him from being eligible for arbitration for another season, assuming he doesn't join the team before another September call-up.
So what is Tampa Bay going to do? Clearly, the want to keep Price in the minors. That plan clearly doesn't jive with Price's thinking of emotional connection to his own development. Read between the lines, and it wouldn't be surprising that, if Price does feel he's being taken advantage of, he agitates for a trade.
That would be the worst thing that could happen to a remarkably stable Tampa Bay locker room, forcing a relatively young and successful ownership group led by Stuart Sternberg. So far, Sternberg's reign has been golden, and they've made all the right moves by paying out young stars early to eat up arbitration eligibility while also keeping them happy and making them financially secure.
Could that be the answer to the Price dilemma? Who knows. The one thing you can already tell is that if he starts in AAA, no one is going to be happy, and that might lead to a trade. Whether Price is the man in that trade may depend entirely on how much Tampa Bay values him.
If we were making the call, we'd value him a lot, that's for sure.
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