Only if the Price is right


It isn't every December, at the winter meetings holiday gift fair, that 29 general managers can grab a shopping basket and find a 28-year-old Cy Young Award winner sitting on the shelves.

But that's the deal (literally) this week, as the Tampa Bay Rays embark on a mission they've dreaded for months, maybe even years. The time has come -- for them to work seriously to trade their favorite ace, David Price, while his trade value is as high as it's going to get, with a gazillion-dollar trip to free agency now just two years away.

You know the Dodgers will be visiting their showroom. And the Rangers figure to be standing in that line. The Mariners have almost openly advertised how interested they are. The Diamondbacks are actively shopping for an ace. And the Braves, although dollar-challenged, have long been intrigued by Price.

If you're looking for a team that could whoosh in out of the clouds, we've heard buzzing about the Padres, who scouted Price heavily last year, and the Cubs, who hired Price's old college pitching coach (Derek Johnson) a little more than a year ago.

And if you had a creative, conspiratorial mind, you could easily concoct scenarios where the Angels (if they moved lots of money), Tigers (if they find themselves forced to trade Max Scherzer), Blue Jays (if they could pull some sort of sneaky three-way deal to keep Price in the AL East) or Phillies (who seem to collect Cy Youngs for a hobby) would have the motivation, if not the prospects and financial resources, to at least kick the tires.

So you would think, with all that interest, that the Rays could wind up trading Price any minute now. But clubs that have spoken with them get the clear sense that their crafty executive vice president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, is in no hurry to make what will be arguably the most important deal in franchise history.

"I get the feeling Andrew is playing this kind of like an agent who is biding his time," said an executive of one team that checked in. "He's doing this in deliberate fashion, to try to get the price up as high as it can go. And then I could see him pulling back ... and waiting for the need of all these teams [to do something big] to get even greater as the offseason goes on."

Other clubs say Friedman is simply doing what he does as well as anyone else in his field -- creating leverage with a smart, careful negotiating stance that will force the bidders to come to him, not the other way around.

And we could sum up that stance in six words: "We don't have to trade him."

A better translation for that approach probably would be, "We don't have to trade him now." But that's just semantics as it applies to this week.

Price is the ace of a team that has won 90-plus games four years in a row (the longest current streak of 90-win seasons in baseball, by the way). So what's the worst thing that can happen if the Rays don't trade him this week, this month or this winter? He can help them win another 90-plus next year. And Friedman is guaranteed to tell every team in this auction that he's fine with that, just the way he was with keeping Carl Crawford.

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