Price avoids arbitration with Rays but may still be priceless on the trade market
It’s not the $215 million contract Clayton Kershaw reeled in from the Dodgers on Wednesday, but David Price’s new $14 million, one-year deal with the Rays is still a hefty contract for a pitcher who still has one more arbitration-eligible season remaining after this one. In fact, it’s the highest single-season salary in franchise history (Evan Longoria won’t crack $14 million under his current, team-friendly contract until 2019).
It’s not, however, an unexpected figure. Having won the American League Cy Young award in 2012, Price made $10.1125 million last year, a 132 percent increase over his 2012 salary and a record for a pitcher in his second year of arbitration. By comparison, Price’s new $14 million deal is a mere 38 percent increase over his previous one, coming as it does after a season in which he spent a month and a half on the disabled list with a triceps strain in his pitching arm and posted comparatively pedestrian triple crown numbers (10-8, 151 strikeouts, 3.33 ERA) compared to his award-winning season of the year before (20-5, 205 Ks, league-best 2.56 ERA). Of course, if you dig deeper, you see that, in 2013, Price led the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.59), walk rate (1.3 per nine innings) and complete games (4), one of those being his dominant outing in the one-game wild card tiebreaker against the Rangers that put Tampa Bay in the postseason.
Price, a 28-year-old lefty, has had an extra year of arbitration by virtue of his having been a Super Two player prior to the 2012 season, which is one reason that his salary is so high with a year of arbitration still to go in 2015. That, in turn, is a large part of the reason that the Rays have been open about their desire to trade Price now, maximizing the return they can get for their ace. There’s a very good chance that Price will be better in 2014 than he was in 2013, which could push his salary for 2015 close to or beyond $20 million. Even if that sort of salary is an inevitability with Price, it would seem to be easier for Tampa Bay to trade him now — with two team-controlled, if expensive, seasons remaining and what remains a bargain salary for a pitcher of his ability and track record — than it would after this season, when the team acquiring him will only be guaranteed one season at something closer to free-agent prices.
The trick is that the cost of prospects and major-league-ready players the Rays will require in return may be so steep that no team is willing to pay it. Put another way, the reason Tampa Bay has thus far been unable to deal Price is that, at least in terms of a trade, he may be priceless. Fortunately for the Rays the consolation prize for their failure to trade their ace is having one of the best young lefthanded starters in the game head up their rotation this year for an affordable $14 million.