David Price is due to become a free agent after next season and there is some speculation already circulating around the Major League Baseball that the Tampa Bay Rays could trade their ace left-hander. There is precedent for believing the Rays could opt to deal Price with his arbitration set to come in between $10 and $15 million. In the past, the Rays dealt Matt Garza and James Shields a year before they hit free agency. This, however, would be a mistake.
The Rays have ranked last in attendance for the second straight year after ranking as high as 22nd in the Major Leagues in 2010, their highest ranking in the last five years. The Rays are a very good baseball team, averaging just over 91 wins per season over the last six years. However, the team continues to struggle to attract fans despite being a perennial playoff contender.
There are several factors that come into play. One of which is Tropicana Field doesn’t do much to attract people to the ballpark. In an era of ballparks having bells, whistles and a million other things to keep fans entertained throughout the long season the only thing the Trop offers is a tank where you can pet rays. However, the most identifiable reason, the one the team has the most control over, is the lack of investment in star players, specifically their own.
The Rays have done an outstanding job of identifying talent and developing it through their minor league system. Shields, Garza and Price are testaments to that success. However, that success will also lead to the Rays being unable, or unwilling, to pay to keep that player.
The Rays need to take a page from the Pittsburgh Pirates who built a playoff team after years of playing the very game the Rays have been for years. Luckily for the Rays, they have been able to keep finding quality players in their drafts. However, that strategy is playing baseball roulette and it is only a matter of time before it blows up on them. They can’t expect to keep hitting it big in the draft. The Pirates are a perfect example of high draft picks going wrong and dooming a franchise to years of mediocrity or worse.
Right now, the Rays have an ace on their team in Price. Trading him because of an increased price tag sends the wrong message to their fanbase. Why should the fans come out when every player who gets too good, read expensive, is traded away for young, unproven players.
Yes, the Rays locked up star third baseman Evan Longoria with a 15-year, $144.5 million contract. However, they have yet to do that with any of their star pitchers and they should at least offer Price a contract before deciding he is too expensive for their taste. Longoria is a very nice player but Price is among the best pitchers in the game. The Rays need to commit to Price and thereby commit to their fans.
The Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area has a median income about $4,000 under Florida’s median income of $44,299. The extra income is there but not as plentiful as in other areas of Florida, specifically in the Miami area. In order to get people to invest in the Rays they need to invest in the team and potentially invest in the area by building a ballpark people will want to come out and see.
Pitching is the most volatile commodity in baseball and is sometimes overvalued by teams hence the larger contracts and greater prospects given to and up for good arms. Price, however, is an elite arm and while he may still be a volatile commodity he is also the best pitcher the Rays have ever developed. It is time for the Rays to do what the Pirates did and invest in their young stars and invest in the future stability of the franchise.