The most popular question, at least among those unimpressed by the return the Rays got for ace David Price on Thursday in the three-way deal that sent him to Detroit, was why they didn't wait until the offseason.
The simple answer is because the Rays were convinced they would have gotten less then.
"Somewhere," executive VP Andrew Friedman said, "between a good bit less to dramatically less."
In reality, they were pleased to get as much as they did:
• LHP Drew Smyly, a 25-year-old No. 3 starter type with nearly three full seasons in the majors.
• INF Nick Franklin, a 23-year-old switch-hitter who had some big-league success in 2013 but not much this year and is at Triple A.
• SS prospect Willy Adames, an 18-year-old with a high upside playing in his first full minor-league season in the Class A Midwest League.
So why couldn't they have gotten more, or at least as much, if they kept Price and waited until the winter?
For several reasons:
• Teams are clearly more reluctant to trade their top elite-level prospects, the kind with "can't miss" labels such as OF Wil Myers, whom the Rays got from the Royals in the December 2012 James Shields deal and who won the AL rookie of the year award. (He then got off to a slow 2014 start and got hurt, but that's another story.)
Friedman said it has clearly gotten to the point where those prospects are "overvalued," meaning the currency for these type of deals has changed. And, while cyclical, that wasn't going to flip back by this winter.
The A's gave up top-end prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney in their July 5 deadline pre-empting deal to get Cubs RHPs Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and by Baseball America's expert count, no better prospects moved the rest of the month.
Trading teams got either lower-end prospects and young cost-controlled major-league or major-league-ready talent, such as the Rays did, or established major-leaguers with financial/contractual issues that don't fit in Tampa Bay.
In deals for pitchers Jon Lester and John Lackey, the Red Sox, for example, got OF Yeonis Cespedes, who makes $10.5 million this year and next then becomes a free agent; and 1B/OF Allen Craig, who is owed $25.5 million over the next three years, with a 2018 option.
Post-deadline postmortem stories were filled with self-congratulatory quotes from opposing GMs about how they wouldn't give up their top prospects.
• No matter how well Price pitched the rest of the season, his value was only going to go down.
As it was now, the Rays were offering an ace pitcher who would be available for two pennant races, and at a total cost around $23 million to $25 million. At the end of the season, teams would be getting him for one year at a projected 2015 salary of $18 million to $20 million. How much would that diminish his value? Some say up to 50 percent.
• The market for Price might have been smaller. The operating theory in trading a star has always been that there are more desperate teams at the trade deadline but more teams to engage during the offseason.
But that may not have been the case with Price, as there wouldn't be many teams — maybe a half-dozen or so — positioned financially to take on a pitcher for one year making $18 million to $20 million and give up premium prospects for him. Plus there will be several big-name free-agent pitchers available, such as Max Scherzer, Lester and Shields, for those teams to consider as well.
So what did the Rays get?
• Smyly is projected as a solid No. 3 big-league starter, certainly a solid addition to a rotation that at some point next season will also feature Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, and is under Rays control through 2018 (though he may be arbitration eligible in 2015 as a Super 2). He was the Tigers' No. 3 prospect, per Baseball America, after an impressive 2011 pro debut season between A and Double A then spent most of 2012 in the majors (making his debut vs. the Rays and picking up a playoff win in relief at Yankee Stadium) and all of 2013 in the Tigers bullpen. This year he is 6-9, 3.93, primarily as a starter.
INF Logan Forsythe played with Smyly at Arkansas, has remained friends (their girlfriends are very tight), and said he is "a good dude" who is a bit quiet, should fit in well and "hopefully not" be overwhelmed by replacing Price.
• Franklin, a 2009 first-round pick by Seattle, was the Mariners' No. 5 prospect going into 2013, with Baseball America projecting him as "a solid regular who could play in a few All-Star Games." He had 10 homers and 32 RBIs in his first 52 games for the Mariners in 2013, though he finished with 12 and 45 in 102, and after being displaced at 2B by Robinson Cano he spent most of this season at Triple A. The Rays, who have him for five-plus years, sent him to their Triple-A Durham team so he'll play every day, with a September callup expected.
Franklin's combination of athleticism to play in the middle infield and switch-hitting power (though more so from the left side) are most appealing, and, though he hasn't had much outfield time yet, his profile suggests a future Ben Zobrist-type player.
• Adames is only 18 and in his second pro season (and first outside the Dominican), but he is doing well against older competition in the Class A Midwest League and his athleticism and advanced hitting approach have the experts drooling. MLB.com has already named him the Rays' No. 2 prospect (behind 2014 first-rounder Casey Gillaspie). Baseball America says he'd slot in 1-3, with SS Hak-Ju Lee and RHP Taylor Guerrieri (both of whom are coming back from major injuries) and Gillapsie, and that Adames "has the highest ceiling in the system" and the most upside of any prospect traded July 31.
"He's got great baseball instincts, he loves to play the game, he makes adjustments really quickly,'' said his Detroit Class A manager, Andy Graham. "I believe he can be a special player.''
Players at Price's impromptu farewell party Thursday night said he was clearly "bummed out" and unhappy about leaving and told them repeatedly how much he would miss them. … That fake Ben Zobrist-to-the-Pirates report surprised the Rays as well, as nothing was even close. The Pirates were, though, in on Price, but their three-prospect offer wasn't considered as good. … Price lines up to make his first Tigers start Tuesday at Yankee Stadium and to face the Rays at the Trop Aug. 21. … Forsythe said one of Smyly's first questions via text was if they had to wear suits on team flights: "I told him, we don't really do that here." … Alex Cobb seems the logical successor to Price as leader of the rotation, but he said it's an evolving process and not something he'll be concerned about. … One reason the Rays didn't trade others (OF Matt Joyce? RHP Jeremy Hellickson?) is their value doesn't change much by waiting until the offseason. … Also, there can be deals in August, but only if players clear waivers or to the claiming team. … If the Rays stay in the race, they could add a reliever.
1B/OF/DH Mike Carp, designated for assignment by Boston, could be of interest. RHP Jim Johnson, released by Oakland, probably not. … Since both designated-for-assignment Ps Erik Bedard and Juan Carlos Oviedo can refuse outright assignments to the minors, they have to soon be released or traded. … In what wouldn't be good news for the Rays, ESPN's Buster Olney says the Red Sox are expected to go hard to sign Shields this winter. … Former Rays OF Rich Thompson made it about halfway through qualifying, but not to the finals, of the American Ninja Warrior competition on NBC. … Quite the reunion today in Oakland, with Shields starting for Kansas City against Scott Kazmir and six other ex-Rays in uniform. … ESPN's Keith Olbermann named the Rays the World's Worst (third place) on his July 30 ESPN show for today's Wil Myers bike horn giveaway item, saying it's "too terrifying for words" then screaming in mock fear. … Today's trip west has a "James Bond"/formalwear theme.
Got a minute? | Grant Balfour
Best meal you can make? I'm not a good cook, so let's go with a stir fry, some Thai cuisine.
Karaoke song if you had to? November Rain (by Guns N' Roses).
Must-see TV? I'm watching Dora the Explorer (with his two daughters).
Food you hate? Liver.
Celebrity crush? Nicky Whelan (Australian actress).