ST. PETERSBURG — Give Sean Rodriguez a few minutes with Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and he would ask one question about David Price.
“I wish I could ask them, ‘You can’t have one $200 million guy? Some teams do.’ He’s worth every penny,” Rodriguez said. “I’m still hoping they say, ‘Let’s give him the contract.’ But, what are you going to do?”
Actually, “What are you going to do?” is the question when it comes to Price and the Rays’ front office.
The trade everyone expected to happen last offseason and was believed to have happened earlier this month still hasn’t happened. And with the way the Rays finished the first half of the season, there is a chance, however remote, that Sternberg and Friedman believe enough in their team’s chances of making a serious run at the AL East title and keep Price through the end of the season.
Or, Price joins Cliff Lee (2010), Hunter Pence (2011) and Carlos Beltran (2011) as recent All-Stars who were traded midseason.
Price is the Rays’ lone representative at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis. He can’t pitch, because he started Sunday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Price is scheduled to start Saturday against the Minnesota Twins during the Rays’ three-game series at Target Field.
Providing, of course, he’s still a Ray.
The trade of Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs to the Oakland A’s leaves Price as the biggest piece on the trade market and any number of teams are interested judging by the rumors — the Seattle Mariners, Blue Jays and St. Louis Cardinals among them.
The Dodgers, according to the Los Angeles Times, dropped out of the Price sweepstakes after general manager Ned Colletti was quoted as saying the Rays’ asking price is, “Probably more so than yours truly would like to part with at this particular time.”
With Price now less than two years away from free agency, a return package might not be as sweet as the Rays might expect.
Also, with the Rays in that gray area between contender and wait until next year, the front office might not be as quick to move Price. Of course, that can change as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches.
Meanwhile, Price goes about his business every fifth day pitching like he’s never pitched before. He’s won his past four starts and has pitched at least eight innings in six of his past seven.
“I think we kind of gloss over the human element of these things,” Friedman said. “That aspect cannot be easy for a player. It’s certainly not lost on me, and the way he’s conducted himself, he’s remained a tremendous teammate, a tremendous competitor. He’s continued to improve his game. Those things are difficult to do in and of itself, but to do it on top of a lot of the noise is even more impressive.”
That Price can pitch at this level while doing his best to ignore the trade rumors surprises no one inside the Rays’ clubhouse.
“I think if anything maybe it’s driving him to pitch better, because he knows that there’s been some talks and things going on, so he’s just proving the kind of pitcher that he is right now to everybody, to our organization and to every other organization that might be interested,” Ben Zobrist said. “I don’t know if that has something to do with the way he’s pitching, but he’s said it himself, this is the best version of himself that he’s ever been, and we’ve witnessed it, for sure.”
Pitching coach Jim Hickey said what Price is doing is something you expect from elite pitchers.
“I do consider him a great pitcher, not just a good pitcher or a pitcher who’s going through a nice little groove right now. He’s been elite in the game for a number of years now and I expect him to do the same for a number of years to come,” Hickey said.
“But one of the things that these guys all have in common is the ability to focus and the ability to block out the distraction, whatever the distraction is, whether it’s trade talks or whether it’s problems at home or whether it’s an error behind them in the field. They have the ability to focus on the next pitch, and that’s what he has. And he’s at the peak of virtually every one of his assets right now, whether it’s physical, mental, feel or anything, so it’s no surprise that he’s doing what he’s doing.”