Nearing the beginning of July and three games away from the “official” halfway point of the season, the Cleveland Indians remain very much alive not only in the hunt for the playoffs, but also potentially the AL Central crown, despite a sub-.500 record on June 27. The Indians don’t have to make a trade in order to keep pace in the Central race, but there are causes for concern, particularly in the rotation, which saw an inconsistent RHP Justin Masterson scratched from his Sunday start, and a trip to the disabled list hasn’t been completely ruled out. But even if Masterson only misses Sunday’s start, adding another starting pitcher wouldn’t be a terrible idea, and it just so happens Tampa Bay Rays LHP David Price, a former Cy Young winner who is arguably having his best season to date, is available in the right deal.
The Indians would love to have Price, but unfortunately for Cleveland, so would 29 other MLB teams, including the Rays, who with still another year of team control in 2015, aren’t under any obligation to deal Price away without getting a good deal, even with Price standing to make approximately $17 million in his final year of arbitration. If a team wants Price, it should be prepared to give up a pound of flesh in return, and it’s hard to blame Tampa Bay for the hard-line approach. Price has been outstanding this season, likely better than ever, as he’s striking out batters more (10.9 K/9 rate is a career high), walking hitters less (1.02 BB/9, also a career high) and on pace for career highs in FIP and strikeouts. There are two downsides regarding Price as a player. First,he’s already given up home runs this year (17) than he did in all of 2013 (16) and is only five away from his career high of 22 HRs allowed (in 2011). Second, if you’re concerned about his ERA or play fantasy baseball, he’s been hurt by having a pretty poor defense behind him with the Rays, which is significant to Cleveland as the Indians have an even worse defense.
Ben Lindbergh and some of the staff at Baseball Prospectus decided to role-play the Price sweepstakes, with Lindbergh playing Rays GM Andrew Friedman (Baseball Prospectus does require a subscription for most of its content, but it’s likely the best $40 you will spend this year). They had 10 teams as suitors for Price, and while a few were outside-the-box teams (Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs), most were exactly the teams you’d expect to be in on Price (Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, to name a few), and the Indians. It’s a fun read, as it’s presented in a series of emails between the GMs, but the relevant part for Indians fans is here:
From: Chris Antonetti
To: Andrew Friedman
June 26, 3:13 a.m.
Tyler Naquin, Ronny Rodriguez, Shawn Armstrong, Dace Kime, Cody Anderson.
The Indians aren’t the type of organization that can afford to send off an obvious top prospect such as Francisco Lindor or Clint Frazier, even if it means receiving David Price in return. Instead, the team will need to put together a package centered around quantity over quality, without a potential star. The trade is built around Naquin, who is having a resurgent season, with a tool shed in Rodriguez and accompanying starting pitching depth to satisfy your thirst.
To: Chris Antonetti
From: Andrew Friedman
We’re not so different, you and I. We both run teams with terrible attendance and bottom-tier payrolls, and we spend our days surrounded by people who devoted their physical primes to posting in rec.sports.baseball. So you should know, better than anyone, that the Rays aren’t the type of organization that can afford to send off one of the best pitchers in baseball without receiving an obvious top prospect in return. Sorry, but I’m still thirsty. Parched, in fact.
As for “Dace Kime”—dude, you can’t just make up names. We have a DiamondView too.
Now, yes, this is just from a Baseball Prospectus article, it’s not 100% truth and I’m fairly certain Andrew Friedman has at least heard of RHP Dace Kime (Cleveland’s 2013 third-round draft pick), but I can imagine the tone of the real-life Friedman’s response to this proposal would be similar: *click*
Unfortunately for Indians fans, simply adding in top prospect SS Francisco Lindor or RHP Danny Salazar isn’t gonna instantly form an offer Tampa Bay can’t refuse. Wahoo’s On First staff writer Steve Kinsella also writes about the Rays regularly for SportsTalkFlorida.com, and thinks the Rays would prefer to deal Price to a National League team with enough money to keep Price until he’s scheduled to be a free agent after 2015, to prevent a return to the American League, but particularly the AL East. Kinsella argues two teams fit the bill: the St. Louis Cardinals, and the LA Dodgers. The Dodgers, particularly, have both an overabundance of money and minor-league talent, and the Indians simply can’t beat a package of OF Joc Pederson, SS Corey Seager, RHP Zach Lee and LHP Julio Urias, even if they were to add Lindor and Salazar to the offer (and at that point, it is likely far too steep for Cleveland).
Acquiring Price was a major topic of discussion on our most recent Wahoo’s on First podcast, as we talked the pros and cons of Cleveland landing the ace lefty, though ultimately we were unable to settle on an offer we felt was both fair and realistic.
But it remains to be seen if any team offers Tampa Bay enough to acquire Price, and the Indians have been willing in recent years to be both bold at the trading deadline and a willingness to get creative in order to acquire talented starting pitching. It’s still unlikely, but there’s always a chance the Indians decide to make a splash.