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David Price presents dilemma for Rays

David Price could net a considerable haul in a trade. Or, he could help lead the Rays to a remarkable comeback.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

David Price could net a considerable haul in a trade. Or, he could help lead the Rays to a remarkable comeback.

So now what do the Rays do with David Price?

A recent run of improved team play has at the least delayed what seemed a near-certain decision to trade the ace starter by the July 31 deadline. After starting against the Tigers tonight, Price will pitch again at the Trop, facing Toronto likely Saturday.

As the Rays creep back to the edge of contention in a remarkably mediocre American League East, team officials at some point will have to make a frank assessment of their playoff chances — as well as the best offers for Price in a market reshaped by the weekend's stunning A's-Cubs trade — then make what could be a tremendously difficult decision on whether to deal Price now or wait until the offseason. (Keep in mind how much Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman relishes going against what's expected.)

Their chances to win are infinitely better with Price. But they also have to be realistic, as Friedman often reminds, in keeping one eye on the present and the other on the future, and take advantage of the opportunity to add the kind of premium young — and affordable — talent they need to maintain success.

Consider it this way: The Rays' chance to make the playoffs looked a heck of a lot better in December, and they were willing to talk about trading Price then. So why wouldn't they now after 101/2 weeks of extremely disappointing play (and a season-ending injury to Matt Moore) and 31/2 of moderate improvement?

There's a third scenario. If the players they get back in a trade can help now and they feel good about filling Price's spot in the rotation (Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Colome), they could, to borrow a Friedman stock phrase, try to "thread the needle" and trade Price and claim to still be in the race. That would, though, be a tough sell publicly and even more so in the clubhouse.

Price has been pitching extremely well, which can make dealing him seem even tougher but also increase his appeal and value to others. (It also can give Friedman added bargaining power in insisting he doesn't have to make a deal, so one has to be worth his while.)

The market for Price can be only enhanced by the A's unexpected acquisition of two of the top starters available, Jeff Samardzija and ex-Ray Jason Hammel. One way is in the price the A's were willing to pay the Cubs, giving up a four-player package topped by SS Addison Russell, considered among the game's elite prospects. At a time teams seem to be overvaluing prospects and are reluctant to deal them, Oakland's Billy Beane, one of the game's smartest and boldest GMs, again showed a keen sense and a willingness to make a big trade for the present.

Another way the market for Price is enhanced is that the A's were not among the teams considered at the top of the shopping list for starters. (They did talk to the Rays about Price before making the Cubs deal, but nothing was close.) So that means all the candidates rumored to be interested in Price — such as the Braves, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants — are still in play and have one less top alternative with Samardzjia gone, as well as one less backup plan in Hammel. Plus, the Angels or Mariners, who are competing with the A's, may be compelled to push harder for Price.

There is even the thought that the Cubs made that deal to then try to get Price as the centerpiece of their rebuilt team.

So where does this all leave Price, whose future is sure to be discussed heavily as he starts tonight on ESPN's national broadcast?

The Rays and Friedman pride themselves not only on not doing what others expect but on never doing things because they have to. So though logic dictates they hang on to Price until late July to further assess their chances and let the bidding escalate, they may use next week's All-Star break to reassess. And it won't be a total shock if they get presented with a tantalizing offer in what now seems an accelerated market and go ahead and make a deal.

Nor will it be a shock if they are encouraged enough by their improved play that they feel vindicated in their initial belief (and franchise-high $80 million investment) in the team's championship possibilities and keep Price to make what could be a historic comeback.

Either way, it just gets more interesting.

View from the booth

ESPN analyst John Kruk has already been fooled twice by the Rays this season, once in picking them to win it all and then in declaring them done three weeks ago. Now he sees them as very much back in a wide-open race among all flawed American League East teams. "I have this coming down to the end, every team in it until the last two weeks," Kruk said. "It's crazy, the whole division. Just nuts."

His biggest question about the Rays isn't whether they can sustain their improved play but whether they trade David Price: "How does Andrew Friedman look at it?" Kruk said they could still justify a deal because of how hard it is to climb over four teams, but they also need to be wary of the impact doing so would have on the clubhouse. "If you're Ben Zobrist and the others, you're like, 'Are they giving up on us?' " Kruk said. " 'We fought our way back into this and they trade David Price? Now what do we do?' "

All-Star past

The All-Star Game teams will be announced tonight, with LHPs Jake McGee and David Price the Rays' most likely candidates. Here is a list of the Rays' past All-Stars:

1998

RHP Rolando Arrojo

1999

DH Jose Canseco**

RHP Roberto Hernandez

2000

1B Fred McGriff

2001

OF Greg Vaughn

2002

OF Randy Winn

2003

RHP Lance Carter

2004

OF Carl Crawford

2005

RHP Danys Baez

2006

LHP Scott Kazmir

2007

OF Carl Crawford

2008

LHP Scott Kazmir

3B Evan Longoria

C Dioner Navarro

2009

SS Jason Bartlett

OF Carl Crawford

3B Evan Longoria**

1B Carlos Peña

INF/OF Ben Zobrist

Manager Joe Maddon, staff

2010

OF Carl Crawford*

3B Evan Longoria*

LHP David Price

RHP Rafael Soriano

2011

OF Matt Joyce

LHP David Price

RHP James Shields

2012

LHP David Price

RHP Fernando Rodney

2013

LHP Matt Moore

INF/OF Ben Zobrist

* - elected/named starter; ** - elected starter/didn't play.

Short stops

• As hard as it is to predict how 18-year-old high school draft picks will turn out, the Rays are taking an even more massive gamble on Dominican SS prospect Adrian Rondon with a total investment in excess of $4 million for a kid who turns 16 Monday. In addition to the reported $3.3 million bonus expected to be finalized Monday, they also will pay a $1.3 million penalty (a 100 percent tax on the overage from their $2 million signing pool) and can't sign any international player for more than $300,000 the next two years. (They can, however, trade some of their unusable bonus slots, and most of their past signings were more of the $300,000 type anyway.)

• Got to figure the Rays wanted a copy for their files of the email A's owner Lewis Wolff sent to Oakland officials to expedite progress on a stadium lease that said commissioner Bud Selig had granted them permission to immediately seek a temporary or permanent new home elsewhere.

Rays rumblings

Top pitching prospect RHP Taylor Guerrieri, impressive in returning from Tommy John elbow ligament surgery in 11-plus months, could pitch his way to advanced Class A Charlotte by season's end. … Good to see Safety Harbor resident Darnell Coles on the field as a coach with the Tigers. In January 2005 he auditioned for a Rays radio gig with Andy Freed and Dave Wills, who got the jobs. … Always loved the bravado of ex-Ray Johnny Damon, who is 40 and hasn't played since Aug. 1, 2012, but he said last week he "can still outhit at least half the league." … The Tigers' TV crew broadcast Saturday's game from a bar in rightfield. Maybe Sun Sports could put Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson on the Porch? Or in the Rays tank? … Sale of the popular ticket flex packs will be cut off July 13.

Got a minute?

Brandon Guyer

Best meal you can make?

I can make a lot of good meals. Let's go with a chicken and quinoa bowl, with Brussels sprouts.

Must-see TV?

24.

Karaoke song if you had to?

Any Eminem song.

Food you hate?

Artificial foods with GMOs and preservatives.

Celebrity crush?

Brittney Palmer (UFC octagon girl)

David Price presents dilemma for Rays 07/05/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 5, 2014 10:01pm]

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