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David Price, Future Cardinal?

Last week, I wrote that the best suitors for David Price were primarily lower revenue clubs who might not be able to afford his 2015 arbitration raise, leading to the possibility that Price could be traded both this summer and again this winter. Then, on Sunday, the Cardinals made that column obsolete. On the same day, they placed both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia on the disabled list, with Wacha’s injury having a pretty open-ended timeline and raising the question of whether or not St. Louis can count on him returning this year.

Suddenly, the team with the most buying power of any team in baseball now has a glaring and immediate need for an impact starting pitcher. And David Price ending up in St. Louis almost feels inevitable.

Now, of course, many things in baseball that seem inevitable from the outside don’t actually end up happening. As outsiders, we don’t have access to the kind of information we would need in order to determine whether or not the Cardinals are actually going to acquire David Price. We don’t know what Tampa Bay is going to ask for in return. We don’t know much about Wacha’s injury, or whether the Cardinals are willing to count on Garcia still being held together by duct tape in October. We don’t know how much their organization likes Marco Gonzales, who is being recalled from the minors to start on Wednesday. We don’t know if there’s another team determined to come away with Price at all costs.

But we do know that the Cardinals should be incentivized to make a significant move. Their 4.5 game deficit in the NL Central isn’t insurmountable (is surmountable?), but our Playoff Odds now project the Brewers as slight favorites for the division title. Avoiding the Wild Card game is a big deal, and acquiring Price would probably make the Cardinals favorites for that spot again, even with their deficit. And of course, once they get to October, a Wainwright-Price tandem at the front of their rotation would be formidable indeed.

Additionally, Price fits the Cardinals window pretty well. While this is a team with some good young players, the Cardinals core is mostly on the wrong side of 30. Adam Wainwright isn’t going to be this good for that much longer. Yadier Molina already has spent over 10,000 innings behind the plate. Matt Holliday is showing signs of aging. This team is a contender this year, and will be again next year, but there is going to be a bridge-year (or two) coming, where the team has to shift away from their current stars and transition into a new era. Signed through next year, Price would be around to help this core make two final runs, and then they could let him walk away while they enter their transition.

And there’s one other factor that should make the Cardinals more interested in Price than some of the other available arms: Ben Zobrist. While the Rays don’t have the same incentives to move Zobrist as they do Price — his $7.5 million salary for 2015 is much more manageable — he’s still thought to be available, and he’d also be a significant asset for the Cardinals. St. Louis’ second baseman have a .241 wOBA this year, and while you could expect positive regression from Kolten Wong and Mark Ellis, Zobrist would give them an upgrade at second base and some versatility that they lack since entrenching Matt Carpenter at third base.

Acquiring Zobrist wouldn’t necessarily block Wong, since he can play the outfield and even shortstop if needed. Right now, the Cardinals are basically praying and hoping that Jhonny Peralta stays healthy, because he’s the only thing keeping them from reliving the Pete Kozma experience. Acquiring Zobrist would essentially make Wong the back-up shortstop, creating a higher floor and avoiding the chance that a replacement level scrub has to play a prominent role in October. Between second base, shortstop, and right field, there would be plenty of playing time for Zobrist, and he could prove just as important an acquisition as Price.

And a Price/Zobrist package is the kind of upgrade that should put Oscar Taveras in play for the Rays. While the Cardinals will certainly be reluctant to give up their top prospect, he’s the kind of trade chip that other teams would struggle to outbid. He’s the kind of potential star that the Rays are going to want to acquire. He’s the kind of guy who theoretically would make Andrew Friedman pull the trigger.

You don’t want to give up elite, near Major League ready talent for short-term expensive veterans. Considering his 2015 salary, Price’s trade value is probably not high enough to demand Taveras. Put Zobrist in the deal, however, and now the Cardinals short and medium term future is upgraded enough to justify the long term downside of giving up a player of his skills. Price and Zobrist could add three wins to the Cardinals ledger this year, and maybe as many as seven next year. Even with the salary commitments required in taking on both player’s 2015 contracts, they still would be valuable enough to justify giving up Taveras.

The Rays would likely ask for some filler as well, and maybe a final deal would look something like Taveras, Greg Garcia, Tyler Lyons, and a low-level arm or two. Maybe it would take a little more if there’s a bidding war. But putting Taveras in a deal gives the Cardinals an advantage over every other buyer this summer, and the Rays ability to include Zobrist in a deal for Price gives them the best leverage to extract St. Louis’ top prospect in return.

Maybe it won’t happen. The Taveras-for-Jurickson Profar trade seemed to make a lot of sense for both sides and never materialized, so this one may not either. But from an outside perspective, it makes sense. The Cardinals need to get better, and they have a new-found need for starting pitching. They could also use a multi-dimensional utility player who could shore up second base. The Rays have almost a perfect package of non-rental players to offer. The Cardinals have an elite prospect with no obvious role on their 2014 team. The pieces fit. Now we just have to see if John Mozeliak and Andrew Friedman see it the same way.