The baseball world turns its attention to Orlando and nearby Disney this week, site of the 2013 Winter Meetings, and among the main attractions for the MLB general managers will be a potential sit-down with Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman to inquire about his available ace.
According to the rumor mill, Rays lefty David Price is available for the right price. Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan has identified at least seven teams with keen interest in the 28-year-old left-hander, and if Friedman is really willing to listen -- and history, as we'll cover, suggests he is -- then a Price deal may be imminent.
Price has two years of arbitration eligibility before he reaches free agency, and according to projections by Matt Swartz over at MLBTradeRumors.com, he should pull in around $13 million if taken to arbitration this offseason. In 2015, if taken to arbitration, he'd likely pull down something a little north of that.
There's recent precedent for moving a player in Price's situation. The hurler, as a trading piece, is comparable both to James Shields -- dealt last offseason from Tampa Bay to Kansas City in a package headlined by outfielder Wil Myers and Tampa's current No. 2 prospect, right-hander Jake Odorizzi -- and Doug Fister, who Washington recently acquired from Detroit for left-handed pitching prospect Robbie Ray, Steve Lombardozzi and Ian Krol.
One NL scout said Sunday that, if Price is going to be moved this offseason, it will almost certainly be for a package akin to what the Rays received in the Shields deal. That the entire baseball universe knows Price is available -- which wasn't as obvious with Fister -- is to Tampa's advantage.
One of the teams that has been connected to Price is Seattle, which just made a splash by signing Robinson Cano to a massive contract. If Tampa Bay is seeking a Shields-like package, Seattle could be a suitor, as the Mariners' top prospect, Taijuan Walker, fits the Wil Myers mold as an elite MLB-ready prospect. Walker, a 21-year-old right-hander, is the No. 4 prospect on MLB.com's Top 100 and has already reached the Majors, going 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three September starts.
Moving Walker to acquire Price raises a tricky question. As a rookie, Walker will be controlled by whichever team owns his rights for six seasons, all of which will be cost-controlled. Price, while already established in the Majors as a bona fide ace, could cost nearly $30 million over the next two seasons and -- unless an extension can be reached with the trading team as part of the deal -- will be free to walk after 2015.
"My question is, if Walker is actually that good to be an ace of a staff and that's why he was untouchable last year, would you really give him up if you only had David Price for two years?" the scout asked.
From an evaluation standpoint, then, what really matters is how much a team believes in its own prospects. If Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik genuinely believes Walker can be an ace, the trade wouldn't seem an advantageous move. The same goes for Arizona general manager Kevin Towers and D-backs' top prospect Archie Bradley or Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington and top Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon.
"In this day and age, young, premium starting pitchers, guys who could be in the front of a staff -- not many of them come around," the scout said. "If you really think you have one with the intangibles and things to allow him to fulfill that potential, [you don't move him]."
All it takes, of course, is one eager GM who thinks less of his ace Minor Leaguer than Friedman, for a deal to be struck.
"You might have that guy, and they might all think he is that guy, but maybe he's A.J. Burnett, a gifted talent that doesn't seem to put it all together," the scout said. "Those are the evaluations that matter, and only the club that has the guy is in a position to make them."
Another factor, though, exists beyond purview of player evaluations. Baseball is a business, after all, and if an owner perceives an investment like Price is worth making for the chance to turn a profit, the nuances of scouting might be tossed more quickly than one of Price's mid-90s fastballs.
As the scout pondered: "Usually, if the stable organization is dealing with an unstable organization, who do you think gets the upper hand in trades and free agency? The stable one, right? You'd think. I think that's what ends up driving a lot of these major moves more so than pure player evaluations, to be honest."
In that regard, of course, Seattle is a far more intriguing potential partner. A story from Seattle Times Mariners reporter Geoff Baker Sunday reported apparent dysfunction in the Safeco Field front office, with Zduriencik, team president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln reportedly upsetting many in the organization with their lack of faith in young players, among other things.
Seattle has reason to feel a splash is needed in a hurry too. Since drawing more than 3.5 million fans in 2001 and 2002, the Mariners have had trouble filling Safeco, pulling in fewer than 1.8 million fans for a second consecutive season in 2013.
Apparent dysfunction? A need to make a splash? Those are the things that can drive a team to do something beyond the realm of conventional wisdom. That's not to say Seattle is sure to push for Price, but if anything could spark such a move, it might be the current, perfect storm of circumstances.
"It totally puts [the Rays] in the driver's seat through this entire year to get the package they want," the scout said. "I just don't see the timetable where all of a sudden, this offseason, a team like Seattle can say, 'Well, we're not giving you Walker, but we'll give you Paxton,' and Tampa says, 'Okay, we'll take that.' Maybe they love James Paxton, have him rated higher, but you see what I'm saying?"
Which price is right?
So what would it take for some other linked teams to pry Price away from Tampa Bay? Here are some educated guesses on packages that could give the Rays reason to part with their ace.
Seattle: Walker, No. 4 prospect Tyler Pike, No. 5 prospect Chris Taylor and a fourth smaller piece.
Pittsburgh: Taillon, No. 6 prospect Tyler Glasnow, No. 12 prospect Wyatt Mathisen.
Arizona: Bradley, No. 5 prospect Zeke Spruill, No. 6 prospect Jake Barrett and a fourth, smaller piece.
Toronto: No. 1 prospect Aaron Sanchez, No. 5 prospect Sean Nolin, No. 9 prospect A.J. Jimenez, No. 17 prospect Mitch Nay and another piece.
Texas: No. 1 prospect Jorge Alfaro, No. 4 prospect Rougned Odor, No. 20 Alec Asher and one or two more smaller pieces.
Los Angeles Dodgers: No. 1 prospect Joc Pederson or No. 2 prospect Corey Seager, No. 3 prospect Zach Lee, No. 4 prospect Julio Urias and possibly another smaller piece.
Los Angeles Angels: Don't appear to have the MiLB players to swing deal, but could include MLB players like Mark Trumbo in deal with No. 1 prospect Kaleb Cowart, No. 2 prospect C.J. Cron or others.