Playing Bounty Hunter For David Price

First off, it was another incredible UCB Weekend.  The Cards went above and beyond, as they so often do, and I’ll have a post (replete with pictures) about all of that sometime this week.  You’ve seen some of the info we got from John Mozeliak on this site already and I’m betting there will be more on that from a number of our writers as time goes on.  We were fortunate to have a large contingent of our Conclave membership there, missing only Nick and Mike Metzger (who, ironically, were the only two that joined me on the first St. Louis excursion), Dathan and Mike Grabowski.

I’ll get to the recapping of games and the discussion of the Michael Wacha/Kolten Wong/Jaime Garcia/Fredbird (OK, so it only SEEMS everyone went on the disabled list this weekend) injuries in tomorrow’s post, but before I do that, I wanted to do some mental noodling and, well, it’s my blog so you get stuck with the outcome.  Assuming you keep going of course.  Which, granted, is a fairly big assumption.

Our Preacher Josh Gilliam and I were texting a bit back and forth this morning.  There’s a rumor going around (that I think is a little more grounded than some I’ve heard) that Marco Gonzales is going to pitch Wednesday for the club in Colorado.  Besides the other things I’ve heard, I think it was interesting to note that Jenifer Langosch put that out as a possibility in a Tweet this morning.  Josh posited to me that it could be a trade showcase start*, to let another club get a good look at him in major league conditions.

*I talked with John Nagel of the everything-you-need-for-STL-minors CardinalsFarm about that and he was a bit doubtful that they’d make such a move just to showcase Gonzales, since teams can scout him pretty well in the minors.  That’s a solid point and most likely the right one.  I would say that for all his success, I don’t think Gonzales has reached that Wacha-like buzz around him and a good start in the bigs in Colorado of all places could get that buzz going, which could make him more valuable in a trade discussion.  Again, it’s all supposition.

The whole discussion was intriguing and it got me thinking.  There are a ton of great young prospects that are going around this organization and it seems impossible to think the Cards are going to keep them all.  We’ve already seen the tension created by “no room at the inn” for Oscar Taveras.  The rotation continues to get packed as you project out a year or so.  Even with the injuries, there’s not going to be room for everyone.  The Cardinals can afford to deal prospects and not be seen as “mortgaging the future”, which Mo said this weekend was something they were not planning on doing.  Something has to be done.  The center cannot hold, and that’s not a reference to Jon Jay‘s defense.

Put a pin in that for a minute.  Let’s get to the other side of the discussion.

Everyone that follows the Cardinals even briefly knows that the biggest name that St. Louis has been attached to in the rumor mill is David Price, the ace pitcher of the Tampa Bay Rays.  Price has been outstanding basically since he was at Vanderbilt and is one of the top arms in the American League.  Given the surprisingly rough season the Rays are having and their small market payroll, a big market salary like Price’s isn’t going to be around there for long.  Price’s ERA might be up a little bit this year (3.83, which is still very good especially in the more offensive–in all forms of the word–AL) but it seems to be a function of him being more around the plate and, therefore, allowing a few more home runs.  Price has allowed as many home runs (16) this year as he did all last year, but he’s walked only 13 guys all season long while striking out 133.  Also, his Fielder Independent Pitching mark is 3.03, which is exactly where it was last year.  He’s striking out 10 batters per nine innings (in a league where he doesn’t face pitchers) and his SIERA is 2.51 for this season, which is outstanding.  He’s 28 and seems to be still in the prime of his career, a prime that might even improve if he switched leagues.  It’s very possible he’s in the middle of his best season yet.

Price isn’t perfect, of course.  There’s been some talk about his velocity dropping over the past couple of years, but that’s not too surprising.  As pitchers get older, they tend to modify from the nasty flamethrowing to the more crafty, pick-your-spots, pitching over throwing mentality, at least if they are any good.  Price still has some heat, of course, but he’s not going to be confused with Trevor Rosenthal anytime soon.  He’s also social-media savvy, being active on Twitter, interacting with fans there.  It would seem that he would get along well in the Cardinal clubhouse, which is important given that chemistry does seem to be one of the factors in Mozeliak’s equation.

Probably the biggest knock on Price in the eyes of Cardinal fans is that he’s not going to come in and revitalize this offense.  I mean, he has two hits in 28 at bats in his career, none since 2010.  With the Cardinals fairly stocked on pitching, do we really need to go out and spend much talent and treasure on what could be termed a luxury item?

That’s a fair point, but given that there are no obvious places to upgrade this team offensively and there are no notable hitters on the trade market (apparently) anyway, it’s a bit of a moot one as well.  If the Cardinals are going to do something, it seems just about as likely to make a move like this than to sit on this cache of prospects and just hope that things shake out and catch fire.  Sometimes the big move is not only about what you get coming in, but what it means to the mental makeup of the team.  Some would argue you get a third baseman and move Matt Carpenter to second, perhaps trading Kolten Wong in the process.  Perhaps, but who are you going to get?  Evan Longoria isn’t leaving Tampa Bay–they expect to contend as early as next year and he’s got a contract that runs out forever.  Adrian Beltre?  I doubt you could get him out of Texas and, even if you could, breaking up the tandem of him and Elvis Andrus is just wrong.  I’m not sure anyone else out of the race has a third baseman that does more than what you get out of Carpenter and Wong at their current positions.

All right, let’s tie these two points together.  Let’s assume that we are going to try to trade for Price.  Here’s a potential trade idea:

Shelby Miller, Stephen Piscotty and Gonzales for Price, with money/other minor prospects details to be worked out.*

*Josh and I first added Ben Zobrist to the deal for the Rays, something that Matthew Leach immediately rejected as impossible.  If you know Leach, you know that he’s a reasonable and knowledgeable guy, so if he says it’s a non-starter, it’s a non-starter.

Why does it work for St. Louis?

Well, obviously, there’s David Price wearing the birds on the bat.  That’s the first, largest reason.  Given the recent injury setbacks, having a proven ace in your rotation is not a bad thing at all.  You have to pretty much assume you won’t get anything out of Garcia the rest of the way.  A move like this means you have a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Price, Wacha, Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, when he returns from his injury.  You still have folks like Tyler Lyons as insurance at Memphis, Carlos Martinez in the pen available to be stretched out and players like Zach Petrick on the rise.  The Cards also drafted pitching again this year in the early rounds and those guys may rise quickly as well if they pan out.  Price is also under contract for next season, so it’s not a rent-a-player situation.

This deal doesn’t free up a spot immediately for Taveras to help the offense*, but if Taveras is getting squeezed out, when is Piscotty ever going to find playing time in Busch Stadium?  Unless Matt Holliday is going to move to first (which, of course, is already taken by Matt Adams or Allen Craig if Adams is swapped somewhere), Piscotty is going to be waiting a long time.  In other words, Piscotty’s value to a team like Tampa Bay might be higher than his value to the Cardinals, given that they have a lesser need in St. Louis.

*Of course, you could avoid dealing Piscotty if you moved Craig or Adams in the deal, but I don’t know that Mo wants to go that far.  I still think that Craig is an extremely valuable trade chip and that would start opening holes to allow for a change in the offense.  Miller, Craig and Gonzales seems to be a bit over the top, though, given the years of control and the salary considerations.  If you could do Miller and Craig, well, that’d become a whole new ballgame.

Also, while all of those players have their fans (and rightfully so–I’m big on Miller especially out of that group), I don’t know that any of them have the passionate following that Taveras or Wacha have.  I think you could swap them and while people would be disappointed, they’d understand.  Kinda like sending out Brett Wallace for Matt Holliday, which you’d have to have been an absolute dunce to get worked up about then.  I think that the fanbase would be more excited about getting Price than disappointed about the players being sent out for the most part.

It works for Tampa Bay because they get a major league starter that is under team control and has a ton of upside and two minor leaguers that are close to making an impact on the major league roster and doing so at a minimum cost.  Tampa Bay’s strong past half-decade has been built on players like that and if they are going to retool instead of rebuild, they are the kind of players that the Rays should be looking for.  There’s a lot of quality baseball that these players could provide a team for next to nothing, which is what the Rays need if they are going to stay cooped up in that dome.

Would I do that deal?  I think so.  I guess it’d be silly to sit here and say no since I came up with it and have spent so long rambling about it.  It seems like it is reasonable to me, though the market for Price might be more inflated than we think.  In a vacuum, that could work.  In reality, what happens if the Dodgers, who are rumored to be the front-runners, really are?  As of right now, the Cards and Dodgers would meet in the wild card play-in game.  What’s the value of having David Price go for your team rather than your opponent?  Can you quantify that at all?

I don’t think the Cards go deep in debt to get a guy like Price, but I do think they are much more capable to spend what would appear to be lavishly on grabbing such a player.  Spending $10 for a $7 meal is crazy when you have $20 to your name, not nearly as much of an issue when you have $2,000 in your hand.  With all of these prospects and the need to clear a little inventory, the Cards might have the winning hand to acquire another ace.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Loney’s under a reasonable contract for 2 more years after this one. David DeJesus is on a low-price contract for one more full season plus player option at DH. So, I can’t see the Rays wanting Craig. I can’t see Mo trading Gonzales, either. My offer, as I blog with more details for a post later this week, is Miller + Taveras + Alexander Reyes.

    • Cardinal70

      I just don’t think Mo wants to move Taveras. I mean, as he told us this weekend, if he could get three Taverases, he’d do it, but my feeling is he’d rather move someone to clear room for Taveras rather than Taveras himself. That’s just a feeling, of course, but so many of these “core” hitters (Craig, Carpenter, Adams) are pretty far along in baseball age. They have good years left, but Taveras is so young and so good, dealing him could be a major problem.

      If you remove that thought, though, that might work, though it still is a ton for Price. I’m not sure what that does to the long-term plan.

      • SocraticGadfly

        Well, that would be my top offer, not my starting point. I mean, I’d start with Piscotty or Grichuk. I’d also see if Lynn instead of Miller got nibbles. At the same time, going back to last year, Taveras, due to psychological issues, or whatever, may wind up flourishing more someplace else. I’m not saying that’s close to a given … just a possible. A more reasonable offer, but good from both sides … Miller + Piscotty + Greg Garcia? Similar to yours, but still avoids trading Marco. To me (and while I don’t know for sure about Mo, I’ll guess about him) … Marco is about as undesirable a trade piece as Taveras. I mean, lefty starters are valuable; that’s why people are interested in Price, in part.

        • Cardinal70

          I’d definitely go Miller/Piscotty/Garcia if the Rays would. Might have to toss in a lower level arm depending on what they think of Garcia, I guess, but it seems like a reasonable thing. Assuming Miller isn’t overly hurt from last night’s game, of course.

        • Cardinal70

          Interestingly enough, Miller/Piscotty/Reyes for Price was proposed in David Cameron’s chat at FanGraphs and he says that’s not enough for Price. Take it for what it’s worth, of course.

          • SocraticGadfly

            Well, several Cards fans at NBCSports agree with you, that my final offer would be on the high end. So, yeah, I’ll take Cameron for what he’s worth on that.

          • Cardinal70

            To be fair, his opinion comes from the fact he thinks Miller is “broken”. If Miller is healthy and shows flashes of old form, maybe that deal isn’t quite as unthinkable. Bunches of ifs, though.

          • SocraticGadfly

            Meanwhile, I’m still trying to grasp the Kozma DFA …

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