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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Expected Price trade still stings

Is that it?

If you’re a Rays fan, you kept asking that after baseball’s trade deadline passed — and ace David Price passed into Rays history, off to the Detroit Tigers as part of a three-team trade.

Meet new Rays pitcher Drew Smyly and new Rays infielder Nick Franklin.

If you’re a Rays fan, here’s what you’re thinking:

That’s all they got?

David Price is gone. And so is his little dog, Astro.

For Drew Smyly? For Nick Franklin?

If you’re a fan, it stings.

It makes you think the Rays are hoisting a white flag.

Me? I don’t think the Rays got enough.

You trade Price ... and all you get back is “potential?”

But he was always going to be traded. And it had to be done. He was always going to leave a franchise that can’t afford him.

It still stings.

“It’s no fun losing a David Price,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Price was the best pitcher the Rays ever had, a Cy Young Award winner just two years ago, the fearless left-hander who never backed down from anyone. If you’re a Rays fan, you can still see Price pitching in the ninth inning of the 2008 American League Championship, closing out Boston to send the Rays to the World Series.

Back then was for miracles.

Thursday was for reality.

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GM Andrew Friedman can’t afford to be a fan. He’s helping run a franchise on a shoestring, at least by baseball standards.

“We can’t neglect the long term,” Friedman said. “Simply put, standing pat makes it much more difficult for us to maintain a compelling, competitive team going forward. That’s the reality of a low-revenue club.”

That doesn’t mean it’s not going to sting.

The reality, if it hasn’t dawned on you yet, is that Rays are good enough to win, but will never be good enough to win a world championship.

That’s life at the bargain barn.

What they do in the name of tomorrows sometimes undercuts their todays.

How can you think anything but that after a day like Thursday?

It stings.

The Tigers now have the last three AL Cy Young winners. Justin Verlander, Price and Max Scherzer. The Rays now have Nick Franklin and Drew Smyly, and 18-year-old infielder Willy Adames, a top Tigers prospect. Maybe he’s the sleeper.

I know what you’re thinking:

Is that it?

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If it feels like a white flag being waved, I can only say the Rays have been the hottest team in baseball the last 51 days, going at a .700 clip — and they’re still fourth in the AL East. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 and still trail first-place Baltimore by seven games.

“No, it’s not waving a white flag at all,” Rays president Matt Silverman said. “It certainly makes our journey more difficult, but we’ve faced bigger obstacles in the past.”

The Rays are who they are and that will never change.

It’s always about staying ahead of the game with their payroll and their empty ballpark, always an eye on the future.

I’m still not sure how Friedman and Maddon will sell all this to their clubhouse.

David Price is gone, and it’s a wallop for Rays fans and maybe Rays players. But Price was always going to be traded.

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Nick Franklin, 23, was a top infield prospect, but didn’t light up the world when rushed into the majors by the Mariners, hitting .214 in 416 at-bats. But Franklin did have 33 extra-base hits in 2013, including 12 homers.

And he might be versatile enough to play outfield, too, like Rays everywhere man Ben Zobrist. Baby Zo. Then again, Zobrist might not be here come next season. More reality.

Drew Smyly is 25, a talented young left-handed pitcher. He might be the poor man’s Price, perfect for the poor man’s baseball franchise. The Rays will have him under control for four more years, which is everything to this club.

Although Franklin will begin his Rays career in Triple-A Durham, Smyly will immediately be slotted into the Rays starting pitching rotation. It’s still a good one.

Maybe Smyly will stand and deliver.

I wonder if he has a little dog ...

The Rays will try to hang on to playoff hopes. Thursday didn’t make it easier. David Price was the best pitcher the Rays ever had. He’ll return to Tropicana Field in three weeks, when the Tigers visit.

No one ever said it wouldn’t sting.

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