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June 27, 2014

Overthinking It

The BP Staff Tries to Trade, and Trade for, David Price

by Ben Lindbergh and Baseball Prospectus


Judging by research Baseball Prospectus published in January, we know what internet commenters are willing to trade for David Price: not much, because that’s what many of them think it would take to get a deal done. Of course, it’s much easier to mock the uninformed, biased evaluations that lead to proposals like “Price for Ivan Nova and Zoilo Almonte” than it is to put together a package that might make professional trade partners perk up. As BP commenter mblthd quite reasonably observed at the time:

Those are funny, but it makes me wonder…do you think you can do better? Let’s see it!

/five months pass

Okay! We accept your challenge.

With just over a month to go before the non-waiver trade deadline and his team 12.5 games out in the East, Price is a popular guy. We have a rough idea of which teams have expressed interest in acquiring him or sent scouts to see him, but we haven’t heard many specifics about the proposals the Rays have received (maybe because the players union is cracking down on leaks about ongoing negotiations, which the CBA prohibits). Even when we do get specifics, the news can be stale, distorted, or self-serving. If we want to get some sense of what a realistic range of returns for Price might be today, we might as play out the scenarios ourselves.

So, much like we did last year with Jake Peavy and with Hunter Pence, we decided to conduct an experiment, asking our staff to role-play the Price trade talks. First, we chose 11 teams that have been rumored to have some level of interest in Price in the weeks leading up to the deadline. Then we assigned each of those teams to a BP volunteer. All of the participants were asked to Daniel Day-Lewis the exercise and fully live the crushing doubt, anxiety, and cell-phone bills (sorry, guys, the company can’t cover your costs) that actual GMs have to face at this point in the season. (Paul Sporer took this so seriously that he’ll still respond only to “Sabes.”) Each author weighed how much his team would benefit from acquiring Price, how much young talent it could afford to surrender, and, secretly, how embarrassed he would be if the trade backfired or if his offer was really ridiculous and you all mocked him mercilessly in the comments section.

That doesn’t mean that every offer will be well-crafted and compelling, or that no one will overpay. Often the team that gets the deal done is the one that’s willing to pay the steepest price, and sometimes that price proves too high. However, once we’re finished here, you’ll know how each participant values Price and, by extension, what each person thinks the actual teams confronting the same calculus would be willing to consider. Will the Rays score a top-10 prospect, or will they have to settle for a more modest return?

Let’s meet the cast.

Dramatis Personae
Alex Anthopoulos (Blue Jays): Nick J. Faleris
Brian Cashman (Yankees): Matthew Kory
Chris Antonetti (Indians): Ron Shah
Jerry Dipoto (Angels): Sam Miller
Frank Wren (Braves): Russell Carleton
Dan Jennings (Marlins): R.J. Anderson (with Assistant GM Tommy Rancel)
John Mozeliak (Cardinals): Bret Sayre
Jed Hoyer (Cubs): Mauricio Rubio
Neal Huntington (Pirates): Chris King
Brian Sabean (Giants): Paul Sporer
Ned Colletti (Dodgers): Chris Rodriguez

and

Andrew Friedman (Rays): Me

Here’s how I see my situation: I don’t have to trade David Price. You all thought I would over the winter, and I faked you out then. I reserve the right to reject all of your offers again, no matter how bad a case of trade deadline blue balls I’d give you. Because if I do trade Price, I’m going to have to get something good. We came into this season as a clear favorite for a playoff spot, and bad as things have been since Bud Selig insisted on playing the season instead of deferring to our deadly accurate season simulations, we’re not that far away from being good again. I turned a last-place 2007 team into a first-place 2008 team, and it wouldn’t be that difficult to do the same thing next season, especially if I still have Price, a former Cy Young winner who on Wednesday declared, correctly, “I’ve never been as good as I am right now, period.” (And I didn’t even tell him to say that.)

Price has been on an incredible run, becoming the first pitcher to post double-digit strikeout rates in five straight starts since Johan Santana did it a decade ago. (And before you point out that Price leads the league in looking K’s—no, it’s not just Jose Molina.) He combines Stephen Strasburg’s strikeout rate with Cliff Lee’s command and control with James Shields’ clubhouse leadership with the Brewers’ commitment to cute pets. Even according to the primitive ERA estimators that public-sphere plebeians are forced to consult because they have inferior data and I hired half of the internet’s analysts, Price has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, behind only guys like Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and Masahiro Tanaka, all of whom are under contract for eternity. Get out of here with that Jeff Samardzija noise—if you want an ace, a guy who could be worth a few wins down the stretch and either fetch a pretty price over the offseason or bring you back to October in 2015, mine is the only one in stock.

So, remember what the Rangers gave up for Matt Garza last year, even though Garza isn’t that good, it was late July, and he wasn’t signed for the following season? Start with that package, double it, subtract one-third, then double it again. Then I’ll consider sacrificing the two seconds it takes to look at your text message. Our drafting and player development hasn’t been what it once was, so it’s important that we make the most of each trade, especially in light of our financial limitations. For the good of the franchise, I’m not going to get robbed. Plus, I’m Andrew Frickin’ Friedman. I have a reputation to maintain.

***

From: Dan Jennings
To: Andrew Friedman
June 25, 9:36 p.m.

We're offering Andrew Heaney, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Adam Conley, and Colby Suggs for David Price, Ben Zobrist, and Cesar Ramos. We're giving up a lot here—four of our top 10 prospects entering the season, including two of our top three—but we're trying to make the postseason this year, and this deal helps us achieve that. Price offsets the Jose Fernandez loss, Zobrist upgrades an infield position of our choice, and Ramos gives us a cheap, versatile southpaw. You guys get a ton of young, talented pitching—some of whom are ready right now—and an outfielder with upside.

To: Dan Jennings
From: Andrew Friedman

Heaney makes my heart sing, and I commend you for your creativity in expanding the offer to include Zobrist. If I’m going to give up two of the guys who’ve contributed the most to our recent run of success, though, I need some exciting secondary pieces to parade in front of our fan(s). I’m scared about Marisnick’s lack of power lately, and the other arms strike me as back-end/bullpen types who would be better off in Miami than in the AL East. I’m not sure I need four future Ramos clones.

Hey, one GM of a Florida team that doesn’t sell tickets to another: This is just a bluff, right? Or a stunt so you can say you inquired about Price? You guys are usually the ones trading the expensive-ish star for the young ’un making the major-league minimum. Have you even cleared this with Loria? If I said “yes,” right now, you’d take it back and admit that you just wanted to see what it would be like to be a buyer.



From: Neal Huntington
To: Andrew Friedman
June 25, 9:58 p.m.

My offer: Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell (OF), Nick Kingham (RHP) and Jonathan Schwind (OF)

This package still leaves me with my top pitching prospect (Taillon) and, with my major-league OF set for the foreseeable future, the loss of Bell and Schwind doesn't hurt as much.

To: Neal Huntington
From: Andrew Friedman

Well, I’m glad putting together this package wasn’t too painful for you, though I could have done without the gloating about how many prospects you have. I like the idea of getting Glasnow into our system, where we could develop his deficient changeup. Josh Bell has been so good that I’ve almost stopped confusing him with the one who busted with Baltimore, and Kingham looks like someone we could plug into the rotation in 2015. As for Schwind, I like my prospects’ faces a little less lined. If I can count six crinkles on one side of your face when you smile, you’d better already be in the big leagues.

I’m a little worried that the two biggest names haven’t taken the Double-A test, but I like that you’re offering some ceiling and some certainty. You’re leading in the clubhouse, but the FriedPhone is blowing up over here.

From: Frank Wren
To: Andrew Friedman
June 25, 10:01 p.m.

Hey there, Mr. Friedman. We actually talked about Price at the Winter Meetings last year. We're still interested, especially after basically everyone on our roster had an elbow injury. Our offer for Price is RHP Lucas Sims, RHP Mauricio Cabrera, and SS Jose Peraza. Sims just turned 20 and is the like-for-like part of this deal. He comes with the promise of three plus pitches and, as you transition into the Alex Cobb/Matt Moore era, he becomes the next guy in line in that pitching pipeline. Cabrera is all gas, and if anything else develops, you at least have a nice bullpen arm who’s cost controlled (and maybe more). Peraza is a bat-to-ball, plus-fielding, 19-year-old middle infielder. You will eventually need to replace both Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist, and... well, I suppose I don't need to tell you about the recent struggles of Hak-Ju Lee in his return from last year's injury. It's never fun giving up two pitching prospects in a deal like this, but this is our go-for-it trade for both this year and next.

P.S. Also, do you want Dan Uggla? Please?

To: Frank Wren
From: Andrew Friedman

I like Peraza’s glove, but I’m worried about what his bat will be like if his BABIP dips, and I’d like to see a little more of what he does against Double-A pitching. Sims had struck out 40 in almost 80 innings in the Carolina League before a strong start last night, so I’m a little less interested than I was when we discussed him in December (and I wasn’t that interested then). And Cabrera—well, heck, who knows. He’s unrefined and unproven, even at the lower levels. I need someone with a super-high ceiling or someone who could hold his own at Tropicana tomorrow. You’re not offering either.

P.S. Sometimes I wake up and wonder why I signed Pat Burrell to a two-year contract in 2009. Then I think, “At least I didn’t sign Dan Uggla for five years,” and I smile, go back to sleep, and dream about Dan Johnson dingers.

From: John Mozeliak
To: Andrew Friedman
June 25, 10:38 pm.

St Louis offers Matt Adams, Stephen Piscotty, and Joe Kelly for David Price and Joel Peralta.

Our organizations line up pretty well here, as the Rays lack what the Cardinals have an excess of—position players who can hit. Adams' departure can signal the full-bore arrival of the Oscar Taveras era in St. Louis, while his arrival in Tampa Bay can improve an offense that hasn't lived up to expectations. Adams has been worth nearly two wins so far this season, despite spending a few weeks on the DL, and he won't even see his first arb year until 2016. He's a huge value, both literally and physically. Piscotty adds to the outfield depth, and provides a solid-average run producer who can get on base at a pretty high clip (and is ready right about now). Kelly can slide right into Price's vacated spot and fits well as the last guy in or out of a rotation for a contending team. Just say yes, you know you want to.

To: John Mozeliak
From: Andrew Friedman

You know what would have sounded better than the arrival of the Oscar Taveras era in St. Louis? The arrival of the Oscar Taveras era in Tampa Bay. That would be even better than when the Wil Myers era arrived. But I have a feeling I’m not talking to Kansas City anymore. Can’t put one over on you guys. Everyone’s saying, “St. Louis is so good at this, St. Louis is so good at that.” Which, I mean, maybe, but talk to me when you win a pennant with a payroll under $100 million.

Still, I’m intrigued, even though I resent the fact that you’re willing to part with these players because you have too many other talented players at the same positions. You’re the first person to offer me a package composed entirely of players who are either in the big leagues or about to be, and they’re all 26 or younger and years away from free agency. Not sure Kelly could ever make it more than six innings against an AL lineup, though, and I wish you had offered me Adams before we signed Loney. Wonder if anyone would notice if Loney just disappeared one day? Probably his wife would. Wonder what we’d have to pay her not to notice?



From: Jed Hoyer
To: Andrew Friedman
June 25, 10:58 p.m.

Cubs offer Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, and Paul Blackburn for David Price

Jorge Soler's stock has slipped, but the talent is still present and a change to an organization with different development personnel could work wonders for him. Alcantara's stock is rising, as the do-everything middle infielder is close to contributing at the major league-level today and has a bright future ahead.

To: Jed Hoyer
From: Andrew Friedman

Real talk: Alcantara is the sexiest prospect anyone’s offered so far. He plays second, but he’s so versatile that he can also play center and short, which, just, ahhhh, there’s nothing like the rush you get from a good multi-position player. It’s the same feeling I get from a good measuring spoon set, or Andy Serkis. And Soler comes with the kind of questions about makeup and work ethic that make me tingle all over. I think you’re trying to take advantage of me. I’m hanging up before someone says “Wes Darvill.”



From: Brian Cashman
To: Andrew Friedman
12:45 a.m.

Let me tell you two things about the Yankees. The first thing is that we have very few prospects. The second thing is that you can have all of them because our major league roster is sewn up for the next decade with long-term contracts, so we don’t care. A center fielder in Double-A? Sure! Help yourself. He’s not playing over Jacoby Ellsbury. A catcher in High-A? Absolutely! Feel free. He’s not playing over Brian McCann. It’s easy to trade prospects when there’s no room on the major-league roster.

Therefore, my offer will be as follows. First, I give you Gary Sanchez, my only legitimate prospect who is playing baseball semi-effectively. Here. Enjoy. That’s one. Then I’ll offer you one of your choice of Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams. Both are doing terribly this season, but don’t trust the numbers, trust our scouts, and our scouts LOVE them. Also, imagine a marketing campaign built around a guy name Slade. Killer! Next, I’m putting $10 million in this envelope and putting it on your desk and whoopsy-doodle, I don’t remember where it went! Ha ha!

To: Brian Cashman
From: Andrew Friedman

I just got a vivid mental image of future Frieds. It’s 2021, and we’re still stuck at the Trop, and I’m looking at the names on our catcher defense report. I spot Sanchez, and then I see red. No, I’m not angry—I got myself into this mess. The red comes from the negative numbers: big, blushing, digits, bleeding away runs from the Tampa Bay Rays. I turn away, and maybe it’s just the moisture in my eyes, but for a second it seems like Jose Molina is right across the room. He’s just standing there, staring at me, and I can’t meet his eyes. So I look down, and the moisture turns into a tear that falls to the floor. I look up, ashamed, and there’s no more Molina—I must have imagined him. But Sanchez and his negative numbers are still on my screen, mocking me for taking that $10 million.

Don’t try to tell me that Sanchez will be an above-average bat at first base, or tempt me by recounting his most recent suspension for disciplinary reasons. You can keep your money. I prefer my pride.

From: Chris Antonetti
To: Andrew Friedman
June 26, 3:13 a.m.

Tyler Naquin, Ronny Rodriguez, Shawn Armstrong, Dace Kime, Cody Anderson.

The Indians aren't the type of organization that can afford to send off an obvious top prospect such as Francisco Lindor or Clint Frazier, even if it means receiving David Price in return. Instead, the team will need to put together a package centered around quantity over quality, without a potential star. The trade is built around Naquin, who is having a resurgent season, with a tool shed in Rodriguez and accompanying starting pitching depth to satisfy your thirst.

To: Chris Antonetti
From: Andrew Friedman

We’re not so different, you and I. We both run teams with terrible attendance and bottom-tier payrolls, and we spend our days surrounded by people who devoted their physical primes to posting in rec.sports.baseball. So you should know, better than anyone, that the Rays aren’t the type of organization that can afford to send off one of the best pitchers in baseball without receiving an obvious top prospect in return. Sorry, but I’m still thirsty. Parched, in fact.

As for “Dace Kime”—dude, you can’t just make up names. We have a DiamondView too.


From: Ned Colletti
To: Andrew Friedman
June 26, 6:27 a.m.

Dodgers offer:

Joc Pederson

Zach Lee

Chris Anderson

for
David Price

You can go ahead and slot both Pederson and Lee into your starting lineup and rotation, respectively. Both are major-league ready and have high floors. Anderson needs some time, but he has the raw stuff to become an innings-eating starter as well. That's one top-25 prospect, one top-100, and another who could qualify for a top 100 very soon. We laid the groundwork for this trade last year, actually. Make sure Astro brings his Ray-Bans for the LA sun.

To: Ned Colletti
From: Andrew Friedman

You realize that Josh Becket is your worst starting pitcher, right? And that you already have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, who are both better than the top pitcher on most teams? Your current rotation makes more money than the 24 Rays not named Price combined, and now you want to add my highest-paid player. You’re like an owner in an eight-team fantasy league who’s perpetually pissed because not every player he has is an All-Star. Must be nice.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest: You’ve caught my eye, Colletti. Two high-floor, roughly major-league-ready, first-division types, plus a potential mid-rotation guy? I’m listening.

From: Alex Anthopoulos
To: Andrew Friedman
June 26, 9:10 a.m.

TAM sends David Price, LHP (MLB)

TOR sends Aaron Sanchez, RHP (Triple A Buffalo)
TOR sends Sean Nolin, LHP (Triple A Buffalo)
TOR sends Franklin Barreto, SS (Short-season Vancouver)
TOR sends Mitch Nay, 3B (Low A Lansing)

This gives you young, cost-controlled pitching that will be ready to start 2015 in the majors, an upside up-the-middle player who is coming along very nicely as a teen in short-season ball, and a throw-in corner-profile player with some pop. Neither Sanchez nor Nolin will be the highest-ceiling arm you are offered, but both are solid future no. 3s, and getting two arms so close to the big leagues adds a lot to your depth and gives you the extra piece on the pitching side to go talk to the Cubs this offseason and try to pry away one of their young corner bats (yeah, we all know that's what you're looking to do).

To: Alex Anthopoulos
From: Andrew Friedman

David is clinging to my leg right now, begging me not to send him to Toronto. “It’s cold,” he’s complaining. “And it’s not like our dome at all. People hit homers there! Also there are monarchs on the money.” I know you went through something similar with Ervin Santana, so I’m sorry, but you just haven’t given me a good enough reason to forget I have a heart. I can’t blow away the beat writers by bragging about how I unloaded my ace for a pair of future threes.

From: Jerry Dipoto
To: Andrew Friedman

All right, Skaggs, Conger, and Nate Smith for Price and Bedard. Shoot, I'll throw in Bedrosian. There it is. That's my offer.

To: Jerry Dipoto
From: Andrew Friedman

You know what a good defensive catcher does to me, and I’ve never had one who can hit. It sounds exciting. The rest of these guys, though…just imagine me making a Scioscia Face.

Can I make a recommendation? Your farm system stinks, so set your sights a little lower. Somewhere below Price but above Matt Shoemaker, which would still allow you to pick from about 95 percent of pitchers.

From: Brian Sabean
To: Andrew Friedman
June 26, 3:02 p.m.

Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar, Andrew Susac, and Gary Brown

While this deal has a tinge of quantity-over-quality, a pair of big arms headline the return, with Crick possibly being the answer to your revolving door in the ninth if he doesn't make it as a starter, and Escobar giving you a high-floor option who is already in Triple-A at age 22. Catching has been an issue in Tampa Bay for quite some time. Molina’s framing is nice, but it’s almost all canceled out by his “hitting.” Hanigan is around for the next few years, but that gives Susac time to learn from some established backstops.

To: Brian Sabean
From: Andrew Friedman

It’s better than the Angels’ offer, I’ll give you that. Would’ve been pretty pumped about Brown if this were 2012. Escobar probably doesn’t get enough attention from prospect hounds, but Crick’s command is scary. Overall, uncomfortably close to this:


Didn’t appreciate the joke about Molina’s bat, by the way. I can say it, but that doesn’t mean you can say it. Still sorta sensitive about Burrell.

***

Your Chance to Weigh in
Hey, you, reading this. Thanks for being in my Baseball Operations department. I know it hasn’t been easy, since I made you promise never to talk to the media and not to contact your family to tell them where you are until I say it’s okay (which will be soon, I swear). I’ve already made up my mind about which offer to accept, but I’m offering you the chance to offer your input so that you’ll feel like part of the team and I’ll feel like I built a consensus. So read over the offers below, choose one (or none), and submit. Your vote will be recorded on your permanent record, so you’d better hope that you make the same choice that I did. Kidding! I just want your honest and unbiased option. This poll will self-destruct in 30 seconds.

***
***
***
***

To: Ned Colletti
From: Andrew Friedman

You win.

I wanted to stick up for the small-market teams. I wanted to show you that just because you’re paying Matt Kemp $21 million and Carl Crawford $20 million and Andre Ethier $15.5 million and also have Yasiel Puig, and just because when you’re the big, bad Dodgers, a prospect like Pederson becomes a spare part you want to send somewhere else so that people will stop asking you how he fits, doesn’t mean that you can get whatever you want out of the little guy. Alas, it looks like that’s exactly what it means. If you hadn’t come along, I might have sent Price to St. Louis, or possibly Pittsburgh, or held out for a more attractive offer. But you want what I have, and I can’t survive without what you have: two 22-year-old Triple-A talents whose service clocks are still unstarted, and another interesting arm.

Pederson-Lee-Anderson reminds me of Myers-Odorizzi-Montgomery. I couldn’t land a top-10 guy this time, but maybe that’s not surprising: Dayton Moore wasn’t in the market for a top-of-the-rotation guy, and Price is more expensive and closer to free agency than Shields was when I made the Myers trade. Pederson was the only top-20 type I could get, and a Pederson-Jennings-Myers outfield can be the backbone of a contending team. At least until it's time to trade them to the Dodgers.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

37 comments have been left for this article.

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