ST. PETERSBURG — The team-record $14 million salary the Rays and David Price agreed to Thursday in avoiding arbitration was obviously a big deal. But it doesn't provide any assurance that Price won't be traded, and staying with the Rays seems to be what the ace left-hander wants most.
Though Rays officials can't provide that answer with any certainty, Price believes the calendar is on his side and — as opposed to the end of last season when he said he expected to be dealt — he is now preparing as though he will get to stay.
"The chances continue to get greater, I guess, as the days go by," Price said. "So I'm just kind of sitting back watching, like I have all offseason."
Price, 28, said he'll feel better about his chances in another few weeks, after the Jan. 24 deadline for free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to sign (and teams to react), and even more so once he reports to spring training in mid February.
"I think if I'm in camp, I would be on the team," he said, "because that would stink if I would be a part of the team in spring training and everybody thinks I'd be there along with them and then I get traded a couple days into spring or something like that. … Probably Feb. 1 would be a time period that I think would kind of let me know that I would be here."
Price is one of the game's top pitchers, winning the 2012 AL Cy Young Award, and has said repeatedly he hopes to stay. But the Rays have to be open to a trade — now or in the future — because they can't afford to keep him once he hits free agency after the 2015 season.
He said the Rays' chances to win make it even tougher to consider leaving, and a slight slip revealed how conflicted Price has been.
"I want to be part of it," he said. "I think they're going to have, we're going to have, a really good season this year. So I would love to see what would happen, and hopefully I'm there for the duration of it."
The $14 million is the largest single season salary in team history, surpassing the $10.25 million Carlos Pena made in 2010. Price will make nearly 20 percent of the team's projected $73 million to $75 million payroll.
Six other arbitration-eligible Rays face a 1 p.m. deadline today to reach agreement or head to a February hearing, with settlements expected in most, and potentially all, cases: Matt Joyce, Jeremy Hellickson, Sean Rodriguez, Jake McGee, Jose Lobaton (who is likely to be traded) and Cesar Ramos.
Price, who made $10.1 million while going 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA in an injury-shortened 2013 season, was projected to get $13.1 million this season, but agent Bo McKinnis struck the deal at $14 million. Price, who wears No. 14, thought that was a good sign.
"Hopefully," he said, "it's my year since it's my number."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]