At $10.1 million committed to him in 2013, David Price is already the Tampa Bay Rays‘ highest-paid pitcher — not just In 2013, but in the 15-year history of the franchise.
However, if that number doesn’t increase significantly — and soon — the reigning AL Cy Young winner is just about as good as gone after the 2015 season, when he will enter the free agent market and its promise of untold millions at the age of 30.
That’s the harsh truth in the economics of baseball, and few teams know it better than the Rays, who will likely be put in the unenviable position of being a competitive team having to trade away their ace for the sake of continuing to be competitive.
They’d rather not do that, of course.
The Rays would rather have Price to anchor their starting rotation through his prime, and potentially even retire with the team. By his account, that’s something the Price would consider too … that is, as long as he’s shown the respect and recognition by the team, and those things are only measured by the zeroes on their contracts.
Though, in a piece by ESPN’s Jayson Stark, Price did mention that “the grass is not always greener on the other side. It doesn’t matter how much more you’re making if you’re not happy where you are.” It certainly says that his comfort in the Rays organization is something he’d take into account in his future, but is it a softening stance on the team discount that the left-hander said he would not take?
Either way, barring a season-ending injury to the 27-year old, the fact remains that he is like on track to earn a nine-figure contract, regardless of whether it’s with the Rays or another team.
Tampa Bay would rather pay him $12 million for five years to buy out his prime, but that won’t happen, not after Matt Cain‘s contract, and not after Cole Hamels. The fact is that it’ll take multiple years at an average of around $20 million to buy out his services as a free agent, considering that he’s been an 4.0-plus fWAR player over the last three seasons.
The Rays have been through this before with Evan Longoria, though. Could they do it with Price?
Imagine if you will, a five-year contract extension structured as such:
2014 – $11 million
2015 – $13.5 million
2016 – $20 million
2017 – $20 million
2018 – $22.5 million
That’s not the type of seven-year deals that Price’s peers are getting, but it will pay him at least $20 million in each of his first three years as a free agent, while the Rays stand to save some money and keep their ace through his age-32 season at an AAV of $17.9 million. In that scenario, Price would be paid approximate market value as a free agent, still come out at the tail end of his prime after the end of the contract.
However, even if Price agreed, it would still leave the team with quite a budget crunch, having invested $30-plus million in two players from 2016-2018.
Will they be able to compete the having only about $25-30 million left to sign the rest of the team? Well, considering that guys like Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore and Wil Myers (assuming he plays up to the hype) are going to start getting more expensive in a few years, the answer isn’t so clear.
Until it is, though, the countdown for Price’s
departure graduation from the Rays goes on.