You have to do it, and you have to do it now. Trade David Price. I know. If you're a Rays fan, that stinks. When you draw up blueprints to build championship ball clubs, you look to get pitchers such as Price, not get rid of them. He's the ace of the Rays staff, a leader in the clubhouse and one heck of a good guy. Price broke in as a Tampa Bay Ray, and if life was fair and baseball was just, he would go out as a Ray — about 10 years from now. And, yeah, you figure if the Rays are going to finish off what could be an amazing comeback this season, they need one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. But it's time to say goodbye. Before today's 4 p.m. trade deadline. As hard as it is to admit, it really is best for the Rays. No, not for today or tomorrow, and maybe not for two months from now. But it's the right thing for the future. It's the right thing when you're a small-market team that has payroll constraints and plays in an outdated stadium in front of embarrassingly small crowds. Franchises like that do what they can to maximize any and all assets. Franchises like that have to get creative to get the best returns on their investments.
And, right now, it's time to pawn off what is the very best single asset they have ever had to get the necessary parts they need to be competitive in the future. Such is life — crummy and frustrating as it might be — for baseball's little guys. Such is life for the Rays.
Price is under team control only through next season, but the Rays cannot afford him much longer. They cannot let him walk away for nothing, so it comes down this: trade him now, in the offseason, or during the 2015 season, when he could be costing them close to $20 million after arbitration.
Now let's be clear about something.
We have no idea what kind of offers Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman has been getting for Price. Maybe they are far short of his expectations or demands. Maybe they are nowhere close to what Price is truly worth.
If the offers are lousy, certainly the Rays should walk away. But you would guess that because of the way Price is pitching (Wednesday's loss not withstanding) and because there are teams who would love to have a top-of-the-rotation starter for potentially two pennant races and maybe beyond, Price's value will never be higher than right now.
If the offers are anywhere close to what Friedman is looking for, he cannot afford to wait. He can't risk keeping Price and having the good offers dry up come the offseason. He can't afford to wait and risk Price getting injured.
If I was Friedman, I would call every interested team and say, "My plan is to trade Price by the deadline. If you want him or you don't want him going to your rival, you have 30 minutes to give me your best offer."
That's when you'll see the real offers come in. And it's my guess that somewhere in there will be an offer full of promising prospects the Rays can live with.
So does trading Price mean the Rays are giving up on 2014? There's no question the Rays will be weaker immediately.
But here's the thing: Despite having the best record in baseball since June 11, the Rays still face long odds just to make the playoffs. The best hope appears to be getting into a one-game wild-card playoff almost assuredly all the way across the country against the A's or Angels — the two best teams in baseball.
And let's not forget the Rays have had Price all season and they are still two games below .500.
The move will not go over well in the clubhouse, but a bunch of players who haven't pulled their weight for much of this season can hardly complain. If they had done their jobs from the start, the Rays wouldn't be thinking about trading the 28-year-old left-hander.
Besides, the players understand the business aspect of the game. They might not like it, but they get it. And anyway, any team worth a darn is arrogant enough to believe it can still win without one particular player even if that player is its best pitcher.
As far as the fans? Gee, what's going to happen: People are going to stop coming to games? The Rays already are dead last in attendance. Those who have chosen not to attend games can hardly complain that the Rays have to make moves such as this to stay competitive.
Of course, the temptation and the popular move is to keep Price and take a stab at shocking the world by winning it all. That's what the fans want. But Friedman cannot be a fan. The old saying is true: If a GM thinks like the fans, he will end up sitting with them.
Friedman has to look at this coldly and realistically. And realistically, it doesn't seem likely the Rays, even with Price, can win it all this season.
Trading Price would hurt, no doubt. But know what would hurt worse? Holding on to Price too long, messing up this whole thing and struggling for the next decade.
There's one way to avoid that. Trade David Price. Trade him now.