Manufacturing a trade for David Price

Just to be clear, I’m a Rangers fan. So most of the meaningless diatribe I post about baseball has to do with them. With that as a caveat, tonight we’re talking about baseball, and it has to do with them.

Since the summertime, when the mainstream media realized what many people had realized several months (or years) earlier — that David Price has just two years remaining before reaching free agency — then obviously the Texas Rangers were interested, because I guess the media still believes the myth that pitchers can’t succeed under the Arlington sun, and that the Rangers are perpetually desperate for pitching. (FanGraphs fact check: Since the beginning of 2010, only one pitching staff in the major leagues [Detroit, +89.5 fWAR] has produced more Wins Above Replacement than the Rangers [+88.3 fWAR].)

With that in mind, Texas should again have another strong rotation complemented by perhaps an even stronger bullpen in 2014. The top four starters should include some collection of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez, with the 5th starter likely being Colby Lewis if he’s healthy, or Nick Tepesch if Lewis isn’t healthy.

Despite Joe Nathan opting out of his contract to look for the final large payday of his career, the bullpen is the real strength of the Rangers. Unless president and GM Jon Daniels decides on something crazy, like using Alexi Ogando as the 5th starter, then the bullpen should include Ogando, Joakim Soria, Neftali Feliz, Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross. Not including some trade, the Rangers will have an excessively deep stable of arms even if they don’t do a damn thing on the free agent pitching market.

But, still, let’s assume they do. Let’s assume they are eyeballing David Price and the Rays.

Conspiracy Theory #1: The Rangers recently signed LHP Martin Perez to a 4-year, $12.5 million deal, with team options in 2018, 2019 and 2020 that would maximize the contract to 7 years and $37 million. In other words, an extremely team-friendly deal, and being that the Rays are starved for resources to afford prime talent, maybe the Rangers signed Perez to make him an attractive trade piece.

Conspiracy Theory #2: The Rays recently signed a minor league scout who also wrote for Baseball Prospectus, the great Jason Cole, who has followed the Rangers and their prospects since I was a little boy. He is arguably, if not with complete certainty, more knowledgeable vis a vis Texas’s farm system than any other man on the planet. Why do the Rays want him now? To pick out a few diamonds in the rough in a potential Price trade?

Next, what could the Rays possibly want for David Price?

Being that they are the Rangers, an organization with a fruitful minor league system conflated by an escalating budget, they are mentioned more than any team when it comes to big-name free agents and soon-to-be-traded stars on the trade market. That’s why David Price would, in theory, make so much sense to be traded there. Because he’s (a) getting too expensive for Tampa Bay and (b) a pitcher the Rangers can afford both now and two years from now when he becomes a free agent. Plus, you know, Price is really damn good, and Texas likes that about him, too.

The trade market, however, can be a slippery slope, dependent on which players are being moved as well as which teams are doing the moving. That’s why it’s so difficult to predict trades in a vacuum. Because if we’re looking at the most recent major trade the Rays made, it was last offseason when they fleeced the Royals for their top prospect — Wil Myers, as well as three solid complementary pieces — for two years of James Shields, and Wade Davis, a fledgling starter who provides a little value in the bullpen. If I looked at that in relation to the Rays dealing David Price, who is both younger and more talented than is Shields, then I would say the package Texas would need to send in return wouldn’t be worth it to them. A reasonable facsimile to the Myers-for-Shields trade would be something like the Rangers giving up top prospect Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt*, Luke Jackson, and Roman Mendez. In other words, it’s a trade the Rangers would never make.

*At the time of the Shields trade, Mike Olt was the #2 prospect in the Rangers organization. Later in the year, in July, Jon Daniels made Olt the centerpiece in a deal to ascertain Matt Garza from the Cubs. Garza went 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA — a 3.65 xFIP — in what most consider to be 84.1 wasted innings. Olt, meanwhile, was dealt alongside minor league pitchers C.J. Edwards, Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm, so Chicago figures to come out of that trade looking pretty nice. 

All told, the Rays know this fact.. They know the Rangers’ front office is smarter than the Royals, so Tampa’s expectations would have to come down. Of course since it’s David Price, the Rays wouldn’t exactly be giving him up for pennies on the dollar, but rather a trade that would, from their perspective, go down from a complete ripoff — like the Shields trade — to something closer resembling “fair”. Especially when acknowledging that the Rangers are not desperate for pitching, and they would actually hold a decent amount of leverage during the trade discussions.

After Ian Kinsler was traded to Detroit, Texas’s logjam of middle infielders was ostensibly erased, meaning they have no motivation whatsoever to include Jurickson Profar in a trade. He’s the 2nd baseman, and that’s that. But, if Profar — the Rangers’ unequivocal number one trade piece — isn’t available, then what might Tampa Bay be interested in?

For starters (pardon the pun), the Rays would need a guaranteed major league piece, someone who could provide value even if none of the minor leaguers came to fruition. To satiate this, let’s include either (a) the aforementioned Martin Perez, or (b) Derek Holland, who is signed — with all his options picked up — to a meager $45.3 million through 2018, about $9 million AAV over the next five years.

Next, the Rangers would have to give up a deep collection of highly sought after prospects. For David Price, the most prized commodity on the trade market, the price in terms of prospects would need to be substantial. Texas has one prospect, catcher Jorge Alfaro* (Baseball Prospectus’s #2 prospect in the organization), that is probably twice as valuable as any other prospect in their system, so the Rangers will do anything they possibly can to ensure he won’t be leaving the organization.

But if the Rays can’t get their hands on Alfaro, then they might want to take a look at the Rangers’ middle infield depth. With Elvis Andrus signed for the next 9 years, and with Jurickson Profar under team control for at least the next 6, it means they have very little need for players like shortstop Luis Sardinas (Baseball Prospectus’s #4 prospect in TEX’s org) or second baseman Rougned Odor (BP’s #1 prospect in the org), ultimately rendering them expendable. If the Rangers included either, or both, in a trade, it would severely lessen what else the Rays could get their hands on. So let’s say Texas included them both.

*Logically speaking, some of you might ask “Why is Jorge Alfaro twice as valuable as any other prospect when he isn’t even the highest-rated prospect on the farm? The answer has to do with the position Alfaro plays, catcher, which is scarce in baseball. While Rougned Odor might be the most sure thing prospect in Texas’s minor league system, the position he occupies, second base, is much easier to fill than having a good catcher. 

Finally, a pitcher. A trade really wouldn’t be a trade unless there was some filler prospect to cap it off. Luke Jackson (BP’s #7 prospect in TEX’s org), 22, features a hard fastball with inconsistent secondary offerings, making him the perfect low-risk, worst-case-scenario-is-he’s-a-relief-pitcher prospect. His ceiling, of course, is as a middle-rotation starter, and could flourish given the Rays’ track record of developing pitching. Alongside Holland/Perez, Odor and Sardinas, that trade could work. So that’s where we’re at.

The Rangers receive: LHP David Price (signed through 2015)

The Rays receive: Either LHP Derek Holland or LHP Martin Perez;

2B Rougned Odor;

SS Luis Sardinas;

RHP Luke Jackson.

A true Rangers’ fan might then say, “Yo, Eric, what the fuck are you thinking?”

Which is really to say that most die-hard Ranger fans are future-oriented, cultivated by a lifetime of heartbreak and defeat when it comes to baseball. To have been a Ranger fan before 2010 was to be thinking about the year after before that season had even started. Though, that mentality wasn’t as defeatist as it was realistic; it was just a fact the Rangers were bad. But, then, naturally, Texas became a model franchise, making the only thing that matters as what’s happening in the here and now. It’s what turns rational people into reactionary robots. We have to win this year, or else fire everybody. And the process that was once slow catalyzed meteorically into just another of the many things we need instant gratification from.

Of all the warm memories that have been born over the last 4 years — the best 4-year stretch in the 50-plus-year history of the Rangers organization — the one I regret the most is that baseball transformed itself from something I loved into something I loved that I also have expectations for.

Still, there’s no goddamn way I would bankrupt the farm system to trade for David Price. Though I find the trade I proposed above to be vaguely realistic, it’s not a trade I would make if I were in Jon Daniels’s shoes. Texas’s starting rotation is already good enough to win the American League West, and there’s no guarantee that David Price would re-sign in two years if he was, hypothetically, already a member of the organization. But this isn’t about what I would do, or what I want.

This is about what the Rays want.