The Process Report » Rays Trade David Price

Rays Trade David Price

David Price has been traded, as part of a three-team deal, to the Tigers in exchange for three players.

Price moves on almost seven years after he signed his first professional contract. He departs as the most accomplished pitcher in franchise history: a first-overall draft pick, four-time all-star, one-time Cy Young winner, and one-time Cy Young runner-up. A less motivated pitcher might have been content wit those achievements. Price wasn’t. He continued to develop as a pitcher and teammate. His early-career struggles with control and secondary pitches seem unfathomable these days, and he went from serving as James Shields’s understudy to, after Shields was traded, leading the rotation (in multiple ways).

Consider it a shame then that Price’s final home start in St. Petersburg qualified as a poor one by his standards. He had, prior to Thursday’s seven-inning performance, notched eight frames or more in four consecutive appearances. Price’s misstep left him without the masterful sign-off performance authored by Shields years before. His legacy, however, ought not be questioned: he was everything the Rays hoped for back on draft day 2007, and sometimes more.

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In exchange for their decorated ace, the Rays received three players. One of whom will report to the big-league team, another who will head to Durham, and one more who joins Class-A Bowling Green. They are left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly, infielder Nick Franklin, and infielder Willy Adames.

Smyly, thanks to good control over a quality three-pitch arsenal (fastball, cutter, curveball), profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Injuries and time spent in the bullpen have prevented him from throwing more than 130 innings in a season, and so his stay in the Rays rotation could be short-lived this season. Should Tampa Bay adheres to its usual 10-percent increase rule of thumb, Smyly has about 43 innings remaining—or roughly seven starts—before he’s shut down. Smyly will qualify for Super Two status following the season, but won’t be eligible for free agency until 2018.

Franklin, a switch-hitter who has struggled during his time in the majors, is a longtime target of the Rays. He’s considered a better left-handed hitter because of mechanical deficiencies in his right-hand swing—he glides, which limits his quality of contact. Franklin lacks the physical tools to hang at shortstop, leaving him a better fit for the keystone. The bright side—if one can call it that—is the Mariners yanked Franklin around the diamond and to and from the minors; it’s hard to imagine those issues not affecting his production to some degree. He started the season with less than a year of service time, so arbitration is a ways off. It’s possible the Rays could use Franklin in a multi-position capacity.

Finally, there’s Adames: a teenage shortstop who won’t see the light of the dome for a few years. Those familiar with Adames believe he’ll move off the position in time, perhaps to third base. Although he possesses mostly average tools, he receives high praise for his instincts and feel for the game; that includes his approach at the plate, and innate ability to make loud contact. In a perfect world, Adames becomes a starter on a playoff team.

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In the aftermath of the trade, there’s a prevailing sense of disappointment. The return feels underwhelming—in part because anytime a team trades a pitcher of Price’s caliber, the return will seem light. Even so, the players joining the Rays lack star potential. The Rays, if they are to receive impact play from any or all of them, will need to flex their developmental chops; be it by teaching Smyly a changeup, helping Franklin become an above-average hitter, or simply helping Adames stay on the correct side of the defensive spectrum. Andrew Friedman did net three potential big-league contributors here—including two who have played in the majors in 2014—but there is no Wil Myers or Chris Archer to satisfy the appetite for upside.

As such, we’re left to wonder: what compelled Friedman to make this trade now? Friedman has gained a reputation throughout the league as a careful, deliberate general manager. It’s evident in how he builds teams and how he negotiates. He’s used the deadline to feel out potential matches before, then used the rest of the season to scout those organizations for possible fits. Why not replicate that formula here?

There’s no telling for sure, but there are a few things to consider.

For one, the landscape has changed since the Matt Garza trade, and even since the Shields trade. The draft-pick compensation reforms have shepherded the Rays to trade their best players before they hit free agency; otherwise, the Rays would receive a single pick, located at the tail-end of the first round, for their efforts. Perhaps this would have been a more attractive route—it would’ve meant another 40-something starts from Price, after all—but it isn’t without potential pitfalls. Look no further than Justin Masterson for proof of how one injury and stretch of poor pitching can derail the best-laid plans.

The other paradigm shift that impacts the Rays is how teams have become less fond of trading their prospects. Look around at the other deadline deals: teams were more willing to swap accomplished big-league players than their top prospects—even clubs like the Dodgers and Cardinals, who have significantly more funds than the Rays do.

Those two factors—the increasing emphasis on trading good players and decreasing likelihood of landing multiple top prospects—hurt teams like the Rays and A’s more than anyone else.

Without knowing the other offers, including those made last offseason, it’s impossible to say whether Friedman took the best deal on the table. Perhaps the Rays value the players they received more than others, and passed on what would’ve been considered better deals. Whatever the truth, the above factors do offer some, if not all of the explanation for the disparity between the Price return and those on the past, lesser pitchers.

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So now the question is where do the Rays turn from here. The Price trade, like the Shields deal before it, and presumably like the Zobrist swap after it, has again proved there’s only room for one sacred cow on the ranch. His name is Evan Longoria. Unfortunately, Longoria doesn’t have the promising calves around him that he’d like. The farm system did not receive the high-end talent injection that many hoped the Price trade would bring, leaving it near the bottom of the pack. The Rays do have the option of trading someone like Zobrist, Jeremy Hellickson, or Yunel Escobar, during the winter, but could meet the same resistance as they did here.

If that’s the case, disappointment will continue to run rampant. But that’s okay; there should be disappointment when the Rays trade their best pitcher at the deadline, and there should be disappointment that the playoffs aren’t a more likely outcome. That disappointment is a sign of how far the franchise has come. Selling in July, sinking in the standings, or giving anything less than the most genuine attempt to reach the postseason are no longer acceptable outcomes in St Petersburg—all because of the success this regime has enjoyed.

In many ways, trading Price embodied the signature Friedman quotation—the one about having an eye on the future—that has become cliche. The Rays are worse off than they were a day ago. Their odds have worsened, their margins have thinned, and the future has dimmed. That doesn’t mean those things cannot be overcome—2011 and the run this season have shown that improbabilities are still possible—just that success will require more hard work and good luck than before. Such is true of the franchise heading forward. Nothing is getting easier, and competing over the long haul is going to require experiencing more days like Thursday. Even then, nothing is guaranteed.

That’s why, despite whatever disappointment exists, it’s hard to feel anger toward Friedman. His position—increasingly like his team’s—was as unenviable as any in the league.



One Comment

  1. Doug wrote:

    Nice article. I was expecting some sugarcoating, but I think you nailed it head on. Many events conspired to change the landscape when Freidman decided to pull the trigger. In hindsight it seems the Rays probably should have pulled the trigger earlier. My feeling is that I’d have rather seen them just hang onto Price until the offseason if this was the best they could do and give the current season their best shot.

    My main concern with this trade is that the Rays really didn’t get any elite talent (wait and see on Adames). Through the course of the current Regime the Rays have proven adept at finding useful parts and developing pitchers, but they’ve really not done so well through the draft or in developing hitters. If it was there, I’d have much rather seen them get one elite talent like the A’s did, rather than several useful parts.

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