March 08, 2014

Should the #Cardinals trade for David Price?

I am assuming, along with a plethora of knowledgeable baseball fans, that the Tampa Bay Rays will put their lefty ace, David Price, on the trading block sometime between now and the end of the year.

Theoretically, a deal could still happen before the start of the season. Or it could happen after the end of the year. But, his price could rise if he has a good start, and a would-be contender finds itself short a rotation arm, as we get around the All-Star break.

Some mid-market teams, with less surety of resigning Price to a free agent contract after 2015, might bid lower, presuming the Rays will understand where they're coming from. Others will bid higher, of course.

The Rays' price is going to be low-cost young talent. So, especially if we're looking at a mid-season trade, we're talking about a team that has talent to spare in the middle and high minors, maybe even a bit of a logjam at times.

Boston's an obvious example, and with the money to do a new contract. But Tampa's not trading in the division. Yankees, of course, don't have the farm system. Nor do the Angels, who would obviously welcome his arm.

Cleveland? The Tribe is not overloaded with prospects

Friend Mark mentioned the A's, but that would strictly be for rental purposes.

Mariners are a definite. Instead of chasing David Phelps, they could use Nick Franklin, now stuck behind Robinson Cano, and prospects for Price. That, in turn, could set off a domino effect, of Tampa deciding to do a division trade after all and get what they can for Ben Zobrist from the Yankees, who would take any upgrade available at 2B and would probably overpay.

Minnesota could be an outside possibility.

Said friend then wandered over to the senior circuit, and mentioned the Cardinals. At first, I said, with Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, et al, why do they need to trade for a starter?

Then, he mentioned all of the young guns might not be dependable, and I thought about my "favorite" starter: Lance Lynn. Still pre-arb this year, there's a good cost controller right there, and of halfway reasonable quality. Plus, if Jaime Garcia is still iffy not just for a month, but possibly the bulk of this season and just maybe his career, getting a lefty in the rotation would be a bonus indeed.

On the other hand, Tyler Lyons is a southpaw, and down in the minors, so is Marco Gonzales, who gets a hat tip from Bernie Miklasz in a round-up of just how deep the Cards' pitching depth is.

Flip side to that is that Lyons has not been a world-beater so far, and Gonzales is likely a year and a half from the big club. (I picture a mid-year or later in 2015 cup of coffee and nothing earlier.)

And, I sure would like to have a lefty to break an all-righty rotation. Plus, having another pitcher with a few years of experience behind Adam Wainwright would be nice. Yet, Price is still relatively young — four years younger than Waino and only a year older than Lynn.

As Bernie lays it out:
I looked at the probable rotations in the NL Central and accounted for an extra pitcher where there was competition for the fifth spot. The Cardinals have the division’s least experienced rotation. Barring injuries, here’s the breakdown:

• Milwaukee: five starters; a combined 823 starts.
• Pittsburgh: six starters; combined 720 starts.
• Chicago: six starters; a combined 706 big-league starts.
• Cincinnati: five starters; a combined 567 starts.
• St. Louis: six starters; a combined 322 starts.

Cards ace Adam Wainwright has made 185 of those starts — meaning that Wacha, Miller, Lynn, Kelly and Martinez have combined for only 137. If Jaime Garcia (90 starts) can get through shoulder discomfort and back into the rotation, the Cardinals’ collective experience level would jump. But they’d still have the least experienced rotation.
David Price has thrown 973 innings vs. Garcia's 551. Started 147 games instead of 90.

So, it's Lynn plus, say, Randal Grichuk as a starting point. If necessary, a more expendable second young gun arm. Let's talk trade, eh?

That said, let's not go overboard. Price has, like Cards' free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta, had an "odd-even" career so far, that is, good in even-numbered years and pedestrian in odd-numbered ones. That's acceptable from a league-average fielder whom you're not expecting to be the linchpin of your offense, just a decent contributor. But, from someone you peg as at least a No. 2 starter, it's not quite so good.

Still, knowing that he's going to be a No. 2, the Cards can perhaps price him a bit below Waino on a longer deal. Maybe offer him a 4/$75M for 2015, his last arb year, plus three years of free agency. That lets him try free agency again after his age-32 season. Or, the team could make that part of a seven-year deal, but with a mutual option, rather than player-only, on an opt-out, as a twist on a Clayton Kershaw or Masahiro Tanaka type of contract. Also, whether that's four straight years, or four years in front of an opt-out, the Cards could lower the base pay but add substantial incentives. that would deal with the "odd-even" performance issue.

And, the Cards can afford it. Jason Motte and his $7.5 million for this year likely won't be resigned and he hits free agency. Garcia has either an $11.5M team option or a $500K buyout for 2016. Let's be realistic to the side of pessimism. So, that takes care of his contract money after the $7.75M of this year and the $9.25M of 2015. A shorter-term free agent contract is doable without breaking the Cards' financial bank.

Other teams mentioned by Mark? Pirates have a great farm system, but I can't seem them paying the contract freight on Price even as a two-season or less rental. The Padres don't have one outstanding player, but have a plethora of decent prospects, and Price in pitching-friendly Petco would be a great add.

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