The Rays were 4½ games back in the race for the American League wild card on Aug. 29, 2009, when they unexpectedly traded one of their best pitchers, Scott Kazmir, to the Angels, then promptly lost 13 of their next 15 games (including 11 straight) and dropped out of contention. • The Rays were 5½ back in the race for the second AL wild card on July 31, 2014, when they not-so-unexpectedly traded their best pitcher, David Price, to the Tigers, then promptly lost four of their next five (then won the next two). • But these Rays say that's where the similarity in the narrative ends, and that for several reasons this team won't fold like that one. • Atop the list, manager Joe Maddon said, is the players have been braced from losing other top teammates. • "There's a certain level of baseball maturity where the guys understand the economics of the whole thing, they've been kind of like trained to more or less understand and expect this kind of stuff," Maddon said. • "So even though you've lost one of the top pitchers in all of baseball, it wasn't unexpected. I think if you get ambushed or something comes out of the blue, you definitely would get some kind of vibe or negative reaction to it. But it wasn't unexpected."
Along with the professionalism to accept the trade is the accountability the other starters have. So as much as they have moments every day when they miss having Price around — whether for conversation, consultation or, as RHP Jake Odorizzi said, "just David things" — there is the reality that they still have a talented rotation and team without him.
"As much as we're missing him … as much as you want to say how much he impacts a team, and he absolutely does in the clubhouse and the dugout, but at the end of the day he's pitching once every five days," RHP Alex Cobb said. "I don't think the performance (after the trade) has anything to do with him being gone."
Also, LHP Drew Smyly, acquired from the Tigers, has stepped into the rotation — showing well in his first start — and fit into the clubhouse. "His transition has made it smoother," Odorizzi said.
If the Rays do falter, there will be plenty said, and written, about how the Price trade doomed them.
But ultimately, the biggest factor will be how they play, whether with or without Price. After this seven-game stretch against the last-place Cubs and Rangers, the Rays play their next 13 games, and 28 of 32, against the contending Yankees, Tigers, Blue Jays and Orioles. And that will be more telling than anything.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg is not going to be the next commissioner of baseball. But the fact that he was among the select few interviewed for the job that will be filled this week speaks to the tremendous respect and admiration others in and around baseball have for him, and for his presence and work in serving on several key MLB committees (chairing the Diversity Oversight Committee), even more so given his small-market leanings and relative short time in the game.
According to one top baseball exec directly involved in the search process, Sternberg was "very, very impressive" in his interview. And some of his partners are having fun with it, now calling him "The Commish."
A report out of New York last week that the Rays and Red Sox were prohibited from dealing their ace pitchers to the rival Yankees sounded like an intriguing story line. Or an attempt by Yankees brass to cover their butts for not being able to upgrade their rotation. Certainly, the Rays and Red Sox might have asked for more to put David Price or Jon Lester in pinstripes, but that doesn't mean they weren't allowed to. "We don't have a no-fly list," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "We have 29 potential trading partners, and we have explored trades with each and every one of them."
Every GM is different and has a different style for different situations. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, in an interview with ESPN's Buster Olney, had high praise for Rays exec VP Andrew Friedman (right) in negotiating the three-way deal that sent David Price to Detroit and netted the Rays LHP Drew Smyly, INF Nick Franklin and SS prospect Willy Adames: "I enjoy working with Andrew. He's done all of his homework, he knows exactly where they stand as an organization. He lets you know that. … He's a very direct individual. Very intelligent. And I enjoy working with him a great deal."
Price's thank you
In writing the copy — well, actually, texting it to agent Bo McKinnis — for last week's poignant "thank you" ad to his former Rays mates and Tampa Bay fans, David Price showed, much like in his MLB TV commercial, an affinity for giving most people around him nicknames. So in addition to thanking various Rays officials by their given names, he name-dropped a bunch of others we have since contexted:
Cuz: George Hendrick, 1B coach
Stanley Mc: Stan Boroski, bullpen coach
Holmes: Jim Hickey, pitching coach
Foles: Tom Foley, 3B coach
Davey: Dave Martinez, bench coach
Shelty: Derek Shelton, hitting coach
Nelly Nel: Jamie Nelson, assistant hitting/catching coach
Westy: Chris Westmoreland, clubhouse/travel director
Ronnie P: Ron Porterfield, head athletic trainer
Nation: Paul Harker, assistant athletic trainer
Vinword: Mark Vinson, assistant athletic trainer
Vinny: Trop players parking lot attendant Vinny Paolozzi
Berte: Trop clubhouse security man Tom Berte
Papito: Jose Fernandez, home clubhouse manager
Beans: Ryan Denlinger, assistant home clubhouse manager
Champ: Ryan Riddle, clubhouse staff
T-Wall: Tyler Wall, clubhouse staff
Sexy Black: Torian Sands, clubhouse staff
Nasty Nate: Nate Leet, team massage therapist
Though David Price is gone, the Rays plan to keep selling his jerseys/shirts at the Trop and the Tampa team store for the rest of the season, and at regular price. … Get-well wishes to former Rays pre- and postgame radio host Rich Herrera, who is recovering from triple-bypass surgery. … So far, Nick Franklin, acquired from Seattle in the Price trade, has seen time at 2B and SS at Triple-A Durham; his versatility was part of the appeal. … It is a surprise to absolutely no one with the Rays that Carl Crawford, in a recent interview with WEEI radio in Boston, admitted he erred in taking the most money from the Red Sox without first researching how he would fit — hint, not very well — into that market.
Got a minute? Drew Smyly
Best meal you can make?
I cook a pretty good salmon, bake it or grill it, or you can do half and half.
I watch a lot of TV. Let's go with Homeland. I'm a big Homeland fan.
Food you hate?
I don't hate any food; I'll eat it all — I'm not picky.
Dream vacation spot?
Europe; I want to go for a couple weeks.
That's a tough one; I have a lot of celebrity crushes. I get star struck very easily. Chrissy Teigen, she's my No. 1 right now.