7/31/2014 9:49 P.M. ET
Rays juggle present, future with Price trade
Despite dealing ace, Tampa Bay has high expectations
By Hal Bodley / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- At first blush, the Tampa Bay Rays should have somebody climb high atop Tropicana Field today and raise a white flag. A big one. Let it fly in the wind.
When they traded away their best pitcher, David Price, on Thursday, the message was the Rays were giving up on this season.
Any chance they had to pull off a miracle is going with Price to Detroit, where the fortified Tigers now own American League Cy Young Award winners from the past three years -- Justin Verlander (2011), Price (2012) and Max Scherzer (2013).
The Rays have won 11 of their last 13 games, picked up the pieces and rebuilt a season that was going down the drain when, on June 10, they were 18 games under .500 and 15 games out of first place with the worst record in all of Major League Baseball.
There has been unbelievable energy in the clubhouse lately, which has been oozing with confidence. The players are convinced they can pull off the impossible and return to the postseason.
They've been maybe the best team in the American League as they turned the corner, and Price was a huge reason why. Before he lost to the Brewers, 5-0, on Wednesday, he'd reeled off six consecutive victories.
So now, the big left-hander is leaving after general manager Andrew Friedman pulled the trigger Thursday prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline of 4 p.m. ET.
To make the three-team deal work, the Tigers sent center fielder Austin Jackson to Seattle, who in turn, sent infielder Nick Franklin to the Rays, who also get left-hander Drew Smyly and promising Class A shortstop Willy Adames from Detroit.
"On the surface, I'm sure the fans are going to be upset -- go ahead and be upset -- I don't blame them," manager Joe Maddon said Thursday night. "That's what fans are supposed to do."
Maddon then paused before saying: "But within the Tampa Bay Rays, we have to do what we think is best for our group and continue to move forward. I have total trust and respect for our players and ownership.
"It's my job as the manager now to do all I can with the coaching staff to make this all work. It's no fun losing a David Price. We have to make the best of it and continue our trek toward the playoffs."
Getting caught in the emotional undertow of Price leaving seemed to ruin any chance the Rays have to move to the top of the mediocre American League East or even land a Wild Card berth.
Eliminate the emotion and examine this as Friedman and his lieutenants did, and maybe we should hold off talk of that white flag.
Price probably would have had 10 more starts with the Rays between now and season's end. Realistically, he'd likely win roughly six of those.
Smyly, also a lefty, is no David Price, but even if he wins just four games for the Rays, the falloff is not that great.
It's very difficult to maneuver in such a small market where the revenues are so limited. The Rays have the lowest average attendance of the 30 teams.
Price, 28, cannot be a free agent until after the 2015 season, but through arbitration next winter he could earn between $18 million to $20 million. He's making $14 million this season.
Committing $20 million to Price next season would have been virtually impossible, given the fact the Rays' payroll this year is slightly under $85 million.
So, you have to consider Friedman's track record. He's made some outstanding trades that have helped the Rays maintain their outstanding success.
He's never dealt a Cy Young Award winner during the season before, but there are numerous examples of how he's been forced to trade premier players the Rays knew they could not afford.
As he was grilled by reporters Thursday night, he said it would have been easier not to deal Price.
"This certainly wasn't a pre-wired decision, but we felt like if something lined up that made sense for this organization, we had to do it," he said. "We felt like we had a responsibility to our fans, to this community to do what we can, to be as good as we can for as long as we can."
The Rays considered trading Price during the offseason, but when it appeared this team was in position to win the AL East, the decision was made not to deal their ace. It was suggested that after the Rays got back into contention for a possible trip to the postseason, Friedman walked in and pulled the plug.
How can he justify this move to the fans -- and the Rays players?
"Every decision we make -- and you can look back at the decisions we've made in terms of trading good, established Major League players -- for us to have a chance to sustain the success we've had, those decisions have been critical.
"It's really important for us to have one eye on the present and one eye on the future, because if not, you fall off the cliff. Falling off the cliff means five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years of rebuilding. For us to be able to sustain success over the long term, these are decisions we have to make."
And they hurt.
Friedman said he never anticipated trading Price during the season. He thought the Rays would be in the thick of the AL East race from the beginning.
He admitted the standings mattered. "Where we were at this point certainly played a role," Friedman said. "Coming into the year, we didn't anticipate trading David Price this July. What transpired over that period of time [the first 10 weeks] transpired. It didn't shake our confidence in our team.
"It's obviously harder without David, but with the core group of guys we have, the mindset is not going to change. The mindset is going to be on winning each game, winning each series. I think we have the talent to do that, but whether it will be enough to overtake the teams in front of us, I don't know."
Friedman said he will have conversations with the players "and be fully honest about our thought process, the reason we did it and the belief we have in our team."
Madden put it this way: "I want to believe our players are mature enough to understand ... that nobody's giving up on anything. We kind of created this moment ourselves by such a poor start.
"Moving forward, I want to believe we have professionals in that room. I want them to believe that we believe we can get this done regardless."
So, for now, let's hold off on the white flag.
No matter what happens between now and October, surrender is not in the Rays' DNA.
Andrew Friedman left us with this: "It's impossible to minimize what and who David Price is."
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.