The Tampa Bay Rays are off to a rocky start in 2014. A run of injuries to their starting rotation has been the main culprit, as their normally stellar pitching staff has actually been the weak spot on the team thus far.
With an 11-16 mark on the season, there is still plenty of time for the Rays to turn things around and emerge as the World Series contender many thought they would be in 2014. But if things continue to get worse, an unfortunate possibility as long as they are missing Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson in their starting rotation, they have to once again ask themselves the tough question that has loomed for the last couple seasons:
When is it time to trade David Price?
It is a foregone conclusion that the Rays will not be able to sign Price when he hits free agency after the 2015 season. The Rays know it. Price knows it. The rest of the league knows it. It is just a matter of when the trade talks will heat up, and while the Rays appeared intent on keeping their ace for the duration of the 2014 season, Peter Gammons wonders if this slow start might change their thinking:
But if they’re still near the bottom of the standings and close to double digits back, will they make a decision on whether or not to trade David Price a year-and-a-half before free agency? Price’s velocity has been down a couple of miles per hour from two years ago, but the Rays aren’t concerned about that.
But because of the drafts of 2010 and 2011—when they had three first round picks in 2010 and 10 of the first 60 in 2011 and essentially have nothing to show for either—their system no longer has pitching prospects lined up on the Skyway Bridge.
And who would trade three top prospects for 1 ½ years of Price?”
Gammons offers the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Texas Rangers as possible trade partners. He also notes that the impending free agency of Max Scherzer and Jon Lester this off-season might make teams reluctant to give up prospects for Price when they can just wait and make a run at one of those guys (or the other guys set to hit the market, like Justin Masterson and James Shields).
Presumably a trade partner would almost immediately engage Price in contract extension talks, especially if it was a team with money to spend like the Dodgers or Rangers. If you’re a fan of a National League team, go ahead and envision a Dodgers rotation with Price, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Greinke in it and then try to get a good night’s sleep tonight.
The Rays can still turn things around. With Joe Maddon at the helm, it is hard to bet against them. If they climb back into the race Price will likely stay put. But if they don’t, the Rays might have the biggest trade piece of all when the rumors heat up this summer.