Will the Price be Right?

Will the Price be Right?

Recently, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Washington Nationals (among many other teams, I’m sure) were looking to add an elite pitcher to their already impressive rotation.  Rosenthal suggests that trading for Max Scherzer (whom we like as well, but the debate is whether or not he’s worth it) would be less costly in terms of prospects than trading for David Price (the subject of today’s blog).

The latest Adam Kilgore blog roll suggests that the Nationals do have the depth to deal for Price but would prefer someone else who was younger and had more years of control.  If that’s the case, and other teams like the Yankees (who may be eliminated from trade discussions by virtue of being in the same division as the Rays) and the Dodgers (who may want go after other assets like Masahiro Tanaka instead) don’t go all-in, then a team like the Cubs may have a chance.

Craig Goldstein and 5ToolsPIE on Twitter had a fun discussion the other night about whether the Kansas City Royals may try to repeat its James Shields trade with their remaining prospect depth, this time for Price, but I guess that depends on how desperate Dayton Moore is and how much he’s willing to stake his job on this potential trade scenario.  For now, let’s focus on whether this makes sense for the Cubs, something that Craig also blogged about for Baseball Prospectus.

David Price, the player

Elite pitching talent doesn’t become available often whether it be via trade, free agency or international free agency. Sure, there’s some elite arms out there who can throw hard and couple it with disgusting breaking stuff, but that’s different than what I’m talking about.

David Price is an example of “elite pitching talent”. He’s a player who’s shown the ability to dominate major league hitters for an extended period of time.

Price started 2013 slow; he posted a 5+ ERA from April until he went down with an injury in May. When he came back, he was dominant. Price posted a 2.53 ERA in 131 innings from July 2 until his last regular season start on September 30. The control was key to Price’s resurgence. In those 131 innings Price issued only 13 walks. He walked less batters post injury while throwing more than twice as many innings.

How’d that happen? Let’s go to Brooks Baseball for some answers. Let’s look at three tables of data.

Pitch Outcomes – from 03/30/2007 to 11/11/2013

This is David Price over the course of his career.  Here’s a picture because the formatting is all messed up in the straight-pasted table:

Career splits; click to embiggen

Career splits; click to embiggen

Pitch Outcomes – from 01/01/2013 to 05/31/2013

This is 2013 Price pre-injury.  Again, a picture to circumvent the formatting fails:

Pre-Injury Splits; click to embiggen

Pre-Injury Splits; click to embiggen

Ball rates are elevated for the hard stuff and the curveball while slightly deflated for the change up. Whiff percentages are also way down for the fourseam and the sinker, while the change, curve, and cutter are all slightly elevated. We can also see that the line drive rates are elevated across the board, suggesting that he was easier to hit hard.

Pitch Outcomes – from 06/01/2013 to 11/01/2013

This is David Price after he came back from injury.  The pic:

Post-injury Splits; click to embiggen

Post-injury Splits; click to embiggen

There are a few things to note here. David Price improved his command post injury. He was also generated more whiffs with his fastball and his changeup. The line drive rates are still elevated and overall the whiff rates were down after the injury. Again, the main difference between Price pre injury and post injury was command.

Price posted a 5.59 K-BB ratio in 186.2 innings during 2013. His second half was phenomenal, highlighted by a July in which he went the distance in three of his six starts. He would fail to go 6 innings only twice in 18 post-injury starts. That’s a hoss, that’s what an ace looks like.

There’s no question in my mind that David Price is an elite pitcher. He has the unique combination of stuff, command and #want that you’d want in any starter. Price is the real deal. That’s why it’s going to cost so much to get him. Tampa Bay knows what they have in #14. They know he’s special and they’ll do well in any trade negotiations for one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Ramifications of a David Price trade

If the Cubs were to trade for a David Price, I believe this would signal a paradigm shift in the front office similar to what we blogged about earlier in the Tanaka free agent profile.  With the team looking to add an elite guy in Price, the philosophy is to win now or win sooner, which means they would be less inclined to trade a rotation stalwart like Jeff Samardzija as previously suggested may happen.

A trade for Price also means that the Cubs believe they have enough prospect depth to trade from without destroying what they’ve built in the farm system over the past couple seasons. A trade for Price might not be construed as desperation, but more of an organization-wide shift towards competition and contention rather than rebuild.

David Price is entering his age 28 season in 2014 and is arbitration-eligible in both 2014 and 2015 as a Super Two player.  His 2013 arbitration salary was just a shade over $10.1MM according to Baseball Reference, and given his dropoff from 2012 to 2013, 2014 may show a meager but still noticeable increase, probably close to $14-15MM.  It would not be surprising if the salary approached $16-17MM.

The Rays will be very interested in moving that potential salary obligation even with the additional TV money being distributed to each team, especially since they’ve committed so much money to Evan Longoria and haven’t seemed as interested in doing the same for Price–though it should be noted that Price himself seems to want to test free agency at some point.

It will cost quite a bit more to get David Price than the Wil Myers-for-James Shields trade or the Matt Garza-for-alloftheCubsprospects trade.  With Price entering free agency by the 2015-2016 offseason, this suggests that whichever team wants him will also want a sign-and-trade, in which they negotiate an extension prior to pulling the trigger on a trade.  The prospect price (pun intended) cannot be for a two-season rental and the long-term investment is also going to be expensive.  If Felix Hernandez got $175MM from the Mariners, David Price has to be looking at about the same level of extension from the Cubs or whoever lands him in trade.

With that much money invested, this may also preclude the signing of other free agents such as Masahiro Tanaka and Shin-Soo Choo.  The contract can be backloaded to alleviate some of the financial stress, but I simply don’t see how the Cubs can afford to get Price AND get more free agents to fill out the roster.

Whatever happens, a trade for David Price is a bold move and a potentially legacy-altering move for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.  They are staking their jobs and their reputations on the fact that a) their farm system is solid enough to absorb the hit; b) their MLB team is closer to contention than previously thought; and c) David Price is still the elite Cy Young contending pitcher that he was with the Rays going forward in pinstripes.  If it succeeds, the Cubs have a rotation headliner for the remainder of the decade and could find themselves in contention as early as next season.  If not, everyone is getting fired and the farm system and the franchise overall will take a step backwards.

The other thing that we have to consider is that it might not be enough just to trade for David Price–as in, acquiring Price is not a one-off move, but a move predicated on multiple other moves that are designed to contend RIGHT NOW.  Again, it’s difficult to see how the Cubs can afford to build around the existing core and David Price (whether through free agency or through the diminished pool of prospect-based trade chips post-Price trade), but this is a huge factor that will weigh on the Cubs’ ultimate decision to pull the trigger.

This was a World Series Dreaming collaboration between Mauricio Rubio, Jr. and Rice Cube.

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  • Cubs are still 3-4 years away from contending. Baez may come up sometime in 2014, but Soler, Almora and Bryant won't start til 2015 at the earliest. And you can't expect them to be great right away. By the time they contend (if they do), Price will be in his 30s. Plus, it would take one of the afforementioned players to get Price. No way it's going to happen.

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