Why David Price Might Get Traded Before Shields

It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Rays need to trade a starting pitcher this offseason. They have seven starting pitchers that could potentially fit in their 2012 rotation: David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Alex Cobb, and top prospect Matt Moore. Trading one of these players would allow the Rays to fill in other holes on their roster — first base and catcher are concerns — while freeing up room for Matt Moore to slide in. The only question is, who do the Rays trade away?

The Rays could approach things from two directions. They could trade away one of the trio of Niemann, Davis, or Cobb, as those three are most expendable and the one-two-three punch of Price, Shields, and Moore would be quite sexy. Or the Rays could do what most people assume they will do: trade away James Shields. Shields is one of the most valuable trade chips in baseball, so he would return a large package while also freeing up $7 million in payroll space.

All these rumors glance over two pitchers: Jeremy Hellickson and David Price. Helly isn’t likely to be moved due to his high ceiling and team-controlled salary, but David Price presents an interesting conundrum. If the Rays are considering trading Shields, Price should also be on the market…and the Rays might be better off trading him.

Over the next three seasons, James Shields has three team options worth a total of $28 million ($7m, $9m, and $12m) and David Price will be entering his first three arbitration years. According to Matt Swartz’s new arbitration prediction model, David Price will likely make around $7.8 million this upcoming season (his Arb1 year). If Price actually makes that much this upcoming season — or even somewhat close to that total — he could easily become more expensive than Shields as early as 2013 (heck, or 2012).

No pitcher yet has made more than $7 million in their first year of arbitration, so Price’s payday would be huge, although not unexpected. When Tim Lincecum filed for Arb1, he attempted to get a salary of $13 million; he eventually reached an agreement with the Giants for 2 year, $23 million. Lincecum was better than Price over his first handful of seasons, but when you look at the statistics most important for arbitration filings, the two are closer than you’d expect:

Few pitchers start off their career with such a run of dominance. If you look at all the top pitchers in the game right now, it’s difficult to find others pitchers that pitched at this high a level — at least, according to these three stats — right out of the gate. Not Justin Verlander, not Jered Weaver, not Cole Hamels, not Zack Greinke. Many of these pitchers commanded around $4-5 million in their first year of arbitration, but considering Price’s success, it’s not too crazy to think he gets somewhere between $6-8 million.

Since there are so few comps for Price, it’s difficult to tell how his salary will escalate in the coming years. Even if you’re optimistic, though, I don’t see how Price gets paid less than Shields’ $9 million club option for 2013. Lincecum got paid $13 million in his Arb2 season, and he’s projected to get around $19 million in Arb3 this offseason. Even if Price comes in way lower than those numbers, he’d still be well beyond the Rays’ price range.

With this in mind, the Rays have a couple options. They could decide to hold onto Shields and Price in 2012, trading Niemann/Davis/Cobb instead and making a hard run for the playoffs. This option would leave them less payroll flexibility in 2012, but they could free up room by moving B.J. Upton and fill in their few roster holes via trade. In this scenario, they would likely trade Price after 2012, as he’d be quickly getting more expensive than Shields. The Rays could then theoretically hold onto Shields through the end of his deal in 2014, or deal him depending on their payroll situation.

Or the Rays could trade Shields this offseason and Price next year.  This would make their team weaker in both 2012 and 2013, but it would bring in a larger trade return and free up more money. I tend to think this rather unlikely at this point, though, as the Rays like to build around their pitching and holding onto both would make their 2012 team a strong contender. It’s a matter of trade-offs, and I think the Rays would optimize their roster (next season and in the future) by holding onto Shields and Price one more season.

This situation is why the Rays love signing their players to long-term deals. If they want to hold onto any of their players for an extended period of time, they need to have their salary locked in place and kept at a reasonable level. Price got too good too fast, and now the Rays are stuck in unenviable position of having to trade away one of their franchise players and fan favorites.

David Price will not be the first or last player to leave the Rays due to budget constraints, but he will be one of the losses that stings the most. I feel like his dominant performance in the 2008 ALCS happened only yesterday, yet I’m already getting ready to say goodbye. Such is life in a small market.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.


40 Responses to “Why David Price Might Get Traded Before Shields”

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  1. Darren says:

    Move BJ

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  2. Brad Johnson says:

    I kind of get the sense that Price is currently too valuable for another team to acquire. It makes sense that they would wait until next offseason to trade him, when his value is more in line with the typical types of prospect packages available.

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    • baty says:

      He is… How would the fan base react to something like this? I imagine they would be able to swallow a Shields trade easier even though it wouldn’t return something as spectacular. With a delicate fan base, they need to ensure some consistency with winning and pleasing now to hopefully create some financial room with extending a piece or two of heir core. Oakland is a great example of an organization trapped in a constant recycling mode… They’ve become a perennially average organization… a great way in keeping from suffering an organizational collapse, but for the Rays, they are to competitive right now to act this way. Dealing Price would be getting way ahead of themselves at this stage of the game. I would take my chances on a less significant return with Upton and/or Shields.

      The Rays will never be able to sustain the necessary payroll flexibility to retain the talent they have, no matter how consistent they are as a playoff competitor . It’s either survive well enough to mostly be average, or go for it when the window is most open and risk the downside… Unfortunate

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  3. Matt says:

    Is Alex Torres not also in the mix, or is he still a year or so away from a real shot?

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    • Tyler says:

      Torres is most likely a bullpen arm this season and really beyond. Watching him pitch in his short stay in the big leagues this Septemeber, his stuff is dynamic. His command however is poor and I doubt it’s ever good enough to start. He should however be a cheap, above-average arm out of the pen. I would expect him to look kind of like Jake McGee looked this season, dominant at times with bouts of inconsistancy.

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  4. Norm says:

    Gotta be Shields. He’ll ruin the Rays streak of no starting pitchers at 30 years old.

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  5. The Rajah says:

    Trading BJ Upton for a couple of mediocre prospects looks like the initial move. When that is done, a Shields deal is the right move. Price may be pricier than Shields over the next 3 years, but he will also be MUCH better. The Rays aren’t willing to pay a high salary to anyone on their club, but they sure can see quality for their peanuts and Price will bring more value than Shields.

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  6. Dizzy Valance says:

    What about Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal to the Rays for James Shields to Cincy?

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    • Matt says:

      That would be a terrible deal for Cincy.

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    • Ari Collins says:

      People keep proposing this one, but I think there’s a reason for that. It makes an awful lot of sense.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Just Shields smells a little short of a deal, but if they were to throw in one of their borderline middle infielders like Brignac, I think it really helps both clubs.

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      • Eminor3rd says:

        I don’t know, might be even straight up. Here’s why:

        1. Shields’ contract is so good, there’s more surplus value there than there would be with the average SP of his caliber, and

        2. Everyone in America knows the Reds have little leverage with those two because of Votto and Mesoraco. Those guys are a part of every projected Reds trade ever because they don’t want them to rot in the minors. I bet this would work to the Rays’ advantage.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        I don’t really see the Reds giving away either guy. Especially with Alonso, it’s obvious that Votto’s time in Cincy is growing short. It can’t hurt to have his replacement waiting around at any time.

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      • baty says:

        Yonder might be 27 with 4 seasons experience in AAA learning LF/3B before he gets a chance to replace Votto at first. That doesn’t make sense at all. Dusty made it clear that he won’t put up with his defensive issues anytime soon. Sometime soon, either Votto goes, or Yonder goes, and I don’t see Votto going yet.

        The Grandall/Mesoraco conflict has time to stick around a little longer.

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    • Cardsfan says:

      This makes perfect sense.

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    • Chet Regret says:

      I’m beginning to wonder if the Reds would be willing to include Drew Stubbs in a deal for James Shields. While Stubbs struggled a bit last season, he’s the kind of defense-first, toolsy CF the Rays would want if they’re serious about trading Upton, and the fact that Stubbs is still pre-arb would be attractive to them as well.

      Stubbs/Mesoraco for Shields?

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    • baty says:

      Unfortunately for Cincy, they’ve already devalued Yonder quite a bit. They completely exposed his lack of versatility, and Dusty isn’t the guy to work through those rookie quirks and allow his hitting value to mature. Any deal involving him will have to be overpriced, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it appears to be a steal. They showed their hand too soon.

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  7. Matt Bertelli says:

    I don’t know if it was intentional but I cracked up when I read “but he will be one of the losses that stings the most” about a Rays player

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  8. FanGraphs Supporting Member

    I looked at MLB Depth Charts the other day and noticed that they pencil’d in Russ Canzler as the Rays’ starting 1B for 2012. I then I looked at Canzler’s minor league stats to see if that was even remotely viable. Turns out, it might be.

    I don’t know if other teams would value B.J. as much as the Rays, given their reliance on and success with defense.

    I’m inclined to think that the Rays wouldn’t fill any holes on the major league roster by trading one or more of their pitchers, but rather try to keep the cupboard well stocked.

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  9. Bj says:

    In comparing Lincecum to Price stats, you must take into account the better offense provided by Rays compared to the Giants. If Giants had a better offense, Linecum’s win total and possibly ERA would improve at the least.

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    • MrKnowNothing says:

      You might, I might, a GM might, but arbitrators don’t.

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    • Matt C says:

      On the flip side if Price got to face the Dodgers, Padres and Rockies a dozen or so times a season instead of the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays his ERA and win total would likely improve.

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    • Paul says:

      How on earth would Lincecum’s ERA improve as a result of a better SF offense????

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  10. Morse says:

    Nats send Morse (ignoring UZR, his defense at first was at the very least average, from that of a nats fan perspective), Derek Norris to Tampa for Price.

    To me it sounds like a good deal for both clubs, and could happen if the nats miss on Oswalt, Wilson, or Darvish.

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    • Ewing says:

      Stephen Strasburg, David Price and Jordan Zimmermann in the same rotation? My body is ready.

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    • Jross says:

      No way the Rays would do this.

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    • Drew says:

      zero percent chance of this happening as Morse is arb eligible this season and Norris is at MOST only marginally better than any of the lower level catchers the rays have in their system already. Sure the rays would save money but I don’t think their FO would consider it an improvement.

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  11. Joe says:

    I, for one, would love to know how having a better offense in SF would improve Lincecum’s ERA.

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    • YazInLeft8 says:

      Haha, I was wondering that same thing. Lincecum’s win total might change… but his stats won’t.

      I, for one, believe it is more likely for Lindsay Lohan to live to 80 than James Shields get traded.

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  12. A Fan says:

    I’m not arguing with the comparison, but did anyone else notice that the stats they showed to tell how well Price and Lincecum pitched were ERA and Wins??? Isn’t the whole point of Fangraphs to show the true value and talent level of players??

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  13. Alex says:

    maybe LoMo and Bonifacio for Shields and BJ? Rays need a shortstop and Morrison is better at 1st, Marlins need a center fielder and SP depth

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  14. Frankie says:

    “Few pitchers start off their career with such a run of dominance. If you look at all the top pitchers in the game right now, it’s difficult to find others pitchers that pitched at this high a level — at least, according to these three stats — right out of the gate. Not Justin Verlander, not Jered Weaver, not Cole Hamels, not Zack Greinke. Many of these pitchers commanded around $4-5 million in their first year of arbitration, but considering Price’s success, it’s not too crazy to think he gets somewhere between $6-8 million.”

    Kershaw’s has 700 innings pitched, 47 wins, and a 2.88 career ERA so far. And he’s scheduled to make around $8.5 MM. Price might barely exceed $6 MM, imo.

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  15. Shawn says:

    I tend to agree that a perfect trade would be some of the reds hitting depth for Shields or Price.

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