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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Rays wait for right Price pitch

LAKE BUENA VISTA ­— It’s quiet, for now, at the David Price Trade Show, also known as baseball’s winter meetings. Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman could be the man of the hour. Only he’s hardly ever around, even for a second.

At least in public — public, in this case, meaning the lobby, halls and assorted TV and radio platforms at Disney’s Dolphin resort: agents, media, rumor makers, circling endlessly. They must keep moving, or at least tweeting, lest they die. Meanwhile, he leads the majors in room service at these meetings, and lack of fresh air.

But he is here, and you can bet he is listening as other GMs make their pitch for Price, who is 28 and in his prime. Here at the Dolphin, Price is the killer whale everyone wants. It’s quiet, for now.

At the moment, the Rays can wait on their pitch. Price will never have more value. Friedman needs to be blown away by a possible deal, completely, or he has to keep waiting for that one perfect pitch. And then the Rays better turn on it. Tape measure, beyond Wil Myers.

The Rays will deal Price. It’s not “If,” but “When?” Maybe now, maybe later. He’ll be making gazillions when he becomes a free agent in two years. This is a huge moment in franchise history. The Rays have never traded anyone like this.

But what in recent Rays history says they won’t make out OK? This organization, this GM, has built up scads of benefit of the doubt. Baseball folk here talk about the Rays as if they’re convinced the show will go on at the Trop without Price, and not half badly at that.

Possible suitors: The Dodgers, the Mariners, maybe the Rangers. Or perhaps the Diamondbacks. The Pirates? Some of the major prospects mentioned: Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar, Dodgers outfielder Joc Pedesron, Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker, to name a few. Here at the Dolphin, Disney itself made an offer for Price: Mickey, Minnie and four of the Seven Dwarfs, with Dopey as a throw-in, pending a physical.

The Rays have kept going despite major losses. It’s what they do. They’ve made the playoffs twice in three seasons since Carl Crawford left. They made the 2013 postseason after B.J. Upton left for big bucks and bad swings with the Braves.

The best of the Rays’ best was the James Shields trade. Friedman only landed top prospect Myers, who in about half a season became AL rookie of the year. Myers has astounding upside, save for occasional October fly balls in Boston.

If the Rays got all that for workhorse Shields, it stands to reason they could get a whole farm, or its system, for Price, the 2012 Cy Young winner. Any potential Price deal needs to replenish the Rays for years to come, 2016, 2017, 2018 and beyond.

It’s the way this team has to do business, their annual precarious balancing act, one that always seems to land them in the general vicinity of 90 wins and, more often than not since 2008, the playoffs.

I think they’re in a good position here.

At worst — how can we even say “worst?” — they keep Price another season. It’s a great Rays bargaining chip to any Price suitor. They could afford Price next season at $13 million. By the way, it wouldn’t mean they’d lose a James Loney. It doesn’t look like Loney is coming back even if Price is traded.

I don’t think they’re necessarily looking for one particular prospect, or a top pitching prospect because Price is a pitcher. Friedman has never limited himself that way. There are no hard and fast rules. The Rays have made the rules as they’ve gone along — and they’ve gone a pretty long way.

Don’t think giving up Price doesn’t strike a nerve. Pitchers like him don’t come around often. It’s scary to give them up, just as it was scary, the great unknown, to let Crawford simply walk away, or deal 200 annual innings from Shields. There’s always some fear.

But fear of falling behind in the AL East drives the Rays more than losing names and award winners. Missing a chance to truly sustain success, for years, would haunt this franchise more going forward.

David Price will go, if not here at Disney, then sometime later. You’re living in a fantasy world if you think otherwise. It’s just a matter of when Friedman and the Rays get a pitch to their liking.

It had better be a big, fat one. The Rays always find a way. But this is David Price. This is the sternest test.

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