ST. PETERSBURG — Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said it's always helpful for a team to get as much of its offseason "heavy lifting" done as early as possible.
Tampa Bay did just that Tuesday by reaching an agreement with one of its biggest stars, Cy Young winning left-hander David Price, on a one-year, $10.1125 million contract to avoid arbitration.
The deal, making Price the highest-paid Ray in 2013, was completed more than two weeks before the Jan. 18 deadline to exchange figures.
"It's always good to get this done early," Price said Thursday. "I didn't want to go into spring training and have to leave to go to an arbitration hearing."
Price, 27, more than doubled the $4.35 million he made last year, when he went 20-5 with a league-leading 2.56 ERA to win the American League Cy Young. It's the second largest deal in club history behind the $10.125 million former first baseman Carlos Peña earned in 2010.
"The spirit of this deal is to do something that was fair to both sides," Friedman said. "And both sides genuinely wanted to get a deal done."
But with Price's price rising, it would seem less likely the Rays can sign him to a long-term pact, especially with their payroll limitations. Price, who hits free agency after the 2015 season, has said he wants to stay.
"If it's right, we'll do it," Price said. "If not, I have to understand it's a business first and foremost. (The Rays) want to win this year but also be able to win in the future as well. They have to do what's best for the franchise."
When the Rays signed third baseman Evan Longoria to a six-year, $100 million extension in November, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said it's possible — "in theory" — to also sign Price.
But Sternberg also said that would have to be balanced with how a second big contract would impact their ability to remain competitive. The Rays' opening day payroll in 2012 was around $63 million. Next year, Price and Longoria will make just more than $16 million between them.
"It's a difficult thing to answer without all of the variables, term, money, all of those things, so it's a difficult question to answer on any one specific player," Friedman said. "But we can certainly add another larger contract. But as Stu alluded to, it puts a lot more pressure on our remaining funds, which will be much smaller to fill out 23 guys around Longoria and whoever that contract is (for) to be able to win. Because at the end of the day that's what motivates us, winning and having a competitive team that we can sustain."
The Rays still have several arbitration-eligible players, including outfielders Matt Joyce and Sam Fuld, right-hander Jeff Niemann and infielders Ryan Roberts and Reid Brignac. Friedman said it's their hope and expectation to resolve remaining arbitration cases before the deadline, but it's "hard to handicap" the chances.
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