The season isn't over for the Rays yet, as they look to keep their series against the Red Sox going today, but the David Price trade speculation has already started. From Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
The public sentiment of the Rays is they will try to find a way to keep their ace. But it is possible his stinker Saturday - seven runs in seven-plus innings in a 7-4 Boston victory that gave the Red Sox a two-games-to-none lead in this Division Series - was his final outing for Tampa Bay.
"No," Price said when asked if he was thinking about that possibility. But, yes, was the vote of all nine executives I reached Saturday when asked if they thought Price would be dealt.
The Rays operate under the principle all 29 teams have the capacity to assemble a deal for Price. So, they close their minds to no one and simply decide who is serious by the offers. And those offers are probably going to have to be better than what Tampa Bay garnered for Shields, who was older and not quite as good as the 28-year-old, reigning Cy Young winner Price.
While it's pretty clear that the team is (and should) operate on the assumption that any team could make them an offer good enough to acquire the ace, realistically there aren't a ton of teams that can put together a package of prospects that is on par or better than what they received from the Royals. As you start to look through the systems, two teams stand out to me as teams that can build a package strong enough to do this: The Cubs, and the Cardinals.
Is There A Need For the Team to Acquire Price?
Cubs: The team's best starting pitcher going into the 2014 season is probably Jeff Samardzija, and adding Price would help to slot their rotation going forward closer to the talent level of the pitcher. They would move Price into the #1 spot, which allows Samardzija to go to the #2 spot. Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson take the next two spots in some order, and the team can still go either get a free agent starter for the back end, or potentially offer someone like Scott Baker another year with the team.
Cardinals: Adam Wainwright headlines their rotation, and is signed through 2018. While their rotation is in a much better spot than the Cubs with Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha all under team control, adding a pitcher of Price's pedigree still bumps them down a slot. The team also has Jaime Garcia coming back for next year, although with his shoulder surgery this year that's hardly a guarantee.
Do The Teams Have Enough To Beat a Package Like the Royals Sent for Shields?
If we're going to look at whether the teams have the prospects to match or even beat a package that the Royals sent for James Shields, we probably should start by looking at what it was the Rays received:
The Royals sent OF Wil Myers, P Jake Odorizzi, P Mike Montgomery, and 3B Patrick Leonard to the Rays for P James Shields. P Wade Davis and UT Elliot Johnson.
The Rays sent a top flight starting pitcher with 2 years of team control, a back end starter or a solid reliever (depending on how you view Davis), and a utility infielder to the Royals. In return, they received a top 10 prospect that was ready for the Majors, a pitching prospect who was essentially ready, but with a back-end of the rotation profile, a pitching prospect who had been the top prospect in the Royals' system two years ago but has struggled mightily, and a low-level flier of a prospect that hadn't been ranked at all. So it seems that if you were to try to match this package to acquire Price, you're going to need to include three things:
1. An elite level prospect, not far from the Majors. (Myers)
This player doesn't have to be as ready as Myers was, but probably needs to have his ceiling or better. For the Cardinals, this almost has to mean including Oscar Taveras in the trade. For the Cubs, you have a number of options, with Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and potentially Jorge Soler as options.
2. A second-tier prospect who probably would slot toward the back of a top 100 list (Odorizzi)
This seems to have more to do with acquiring assets, as the Rays used Odorizzi sparingly this year and it doesn't seem like a guarantee that he will get locked into a rotation spot in 2014. For the Cardinals, a player like Wacha or Trevor Rosenthal seem like fits, but if one of them were to be included it seems like that might finish the package for the Cardinals. From Chicago, Arismendy Alcantara or Pierce Johnson seem like names that would jump out, and would probably require additional prospects to match up against the Cardinals.
3. Some sort of prospect with some upside, even if it is far away. (Montgomery, Leonard)
Honestly, this really could be almost anyone, as it seems like they would almost be filler on the trade, just to help sweeten the deal for the Rays. Players that don't necessarily have a likely major league ceiling, but at least are not just organizational filler.
In terms of fantasy, I think that at some point in the near future the Cubs end up making some sort of trade to consolidate some of these quantity of high-level pieces into high-end major league talent. It's a great problem to have, having so many prospects for their position players, and while they aren't all necessarily going to make it to the Majors and be the talent that they could be, a trade could open up opportunities on both sides.
Trading for Price makes more sense to me for the Cubs, because they have a stronger need for that elite starting pitcher than the Cardinals, and because they don't necessarily hurt their 2014 campaign by trading away these prospects. Oscar Taveras seems likely to be the starting right fielder for the Cardinals at some point during 2014, and while they have the flexibility to make that work, it seems that they would rather hold onto that flexibility and depth, as they have needed it this year with the injuries to Allen Craig.
Price will be an interesting player to watch this offseason, and personally I think there's a better than 50% chance he ends up traded before Spring Training. The Rays have so many arms in the high minors that can potentially jump in, and while they can't necessarily make up for everything that Price brings to the table, they can probably get surprisingly close.