With the Tampa Bay Rays owning the worst record in baseball at 32-48, ace pitcher David Price is on the trade block. Despite an ERA that is almost half a run higher than his career average, the 28 year-old left-hander is having his best season yet in more ways than one. After dominating the Pittsburgh Pirates, Price owns a 10.3/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is easily the best mark in baseball.
It’s been a disappointing season for the Rays, who were expected to compete for the American League East title, and perhaps make a World Series run. Instead, everything has gone wrong. Their main offensive players have produced well below their career rates, and several key starting pitchers have missed significant chunks of time with injuries. Price, who was mentioned in trade rumors throughout the offseason, appears to be a lock to be dealt before the July 31st deadline.
Price currently owns career lows in FIP and xFIP. After posting a very low 3.7 percent walk rate last season, Price has picked up where he left off. Through his first 17 starts and 124 innings, he’s walked just 14 hitters, for a 2.8 percent rate. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate of 28.4 percent is the highest mark of his career and the fourth highest mark in the major leagues. In terms of K-BB%, Masahiro Tanaka comes a little closer, but Price is still the top dog.
Since returning from the DL in July of last season, Price has changed his approach. Whether it’s because he doesn’t have that top-shelf velocity or because he wants to conserve his arm, Price isn’t flashing upper 90s heat any more. Nevertheless, his average fastball velocity of 93 miles per hour is still the fastest among left-handed pitchers.
However, Price has more than compensated for the lower velocity by pounding the zone with strikes. His first-pitch strike rate of 71.5 percent is the best in baseball, and even with less velocity, he’s established a career high swinging strike rate. Price’s changeup has become his go-to secondary pitch, and it has a 19.0 percent swinging strike rate this season, easily the best it’s been. Along with his cutter and curveball, he owns three pitches with double digit whiff rates. Don’t be fooled by the ERA, Price is one of the best five or so starting pitchers in baseball.
Of course every team in the playoff hunt would see a significant upgrade by adding Price to their rotation. Here are a couple of the teams that will be in play for the Rays ace.
The St. Louis Cardinals recently saw Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia hit the DL with shoulder ailments. Their farm system is chock full of prospects, most notably Oscar Taveras, who rates as one of the best five prospects in baseball. It’s unlikely that they would deal Taveras for Price straight up, as Price has only one and a half years of team control remaining. Still, if the Rays were willing to move utility player Ben Zobrist as well, the framework for a deal could be in place. Zobrist would fill a need, as the Cardinals have struggled at second base, and he could fill in at other positions as well. A Price and Zobrist for Taveras and some lesser prospects would make sense for both teams.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been heavily connected with Price as well. Dan Haren might not be long for the rotation, and if any starting pitcher were to suffer an injury, Paul Maholm would be next up. At 3.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West, they should be motivated to avoid the play-in game. A playoff rotation featuring Clayton Kershaw, Price and Zack Greinke would be a force to contend with. If he’s not in the major leagues, mega-prospect Joc Pederson could be moved, as could 20 year-old shortstop Corey Seager who is tearing up High-A.
Several other teams, including the Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals and others will inquire about Price. The Rays are in a prime position to sell and should acquire a very high-ceiling prospect that will be under team control for several years to come in return for 1.5 years of David Price.