ST. PETERSBURG — The overpowering performances on the mound, the Little League-like enthusiasm in the dugout, the 20-win season and Cy Young Award are now part of team lore.
David Price doesn't pitch here anymore.
The Rays' ace was traded to the Detroit Tigers on Thursday as the major piece in a three-team swap that also included the Seattle Mariners. The Rays received Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly and Class A shortstop Willy Adames, as well as Mariners infield prospect Nick Franklin.
“We knew at some point David was not going to be a Ray,” executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “We didn't anticipate it being this July, but we also didn't anticipate being in the position we are right now.”
The Rays avoided arbitration in January with Price by agreeing to a one-year, $14 million contract. It was part of a Rays offseason spending spree that increased the payroll to a record high with the idea of putting together a team capable of a deep postseason run.
When that appeared to blow up in late May and early June, Friedman said his focus turned to 2015. But then came the surge that has the Rays on the edge of the postseason race and, well, Friedman still made the trade, getting what he could while Price still had trade value, just as he did with Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and James Shields, a trio of pitchers dealt while still under team control.
“For us to have a chance to sustain the success that we've had, those decisions have been critical,” Friedman said. “So it's really important for us to have one eye on the present and one eye on the future. Because if not, you fall off the cliff, and to fall off the cliff means five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years of rebuilding.”
In Smyly, the Rays have a starter with a winning record (16-12) in three big-league seasons who will be under team control for four more years.
In Franklin, they have a middle infielder who heads to Triple-A Durham to get at-bats and could be groomed to be the next Ben Zobrist.
In Adames, they added a highly touted shortstop prospect to a farm system devoid of one.
“We have to maintain that balance that Andrew always speaks about and manage the runway of talent that we have,” team president Matt Silverman said. “It wasn't a foregone conclusion that we were going to make a trade (Thursday) or trade David Price, but it shouldn't be a surprise.”
The Price trade capped a busy day of trading across the majors as teams scrambled to add or subtract before the 4 p.m. trade deadline.
Austin Jackson, the center fielder sent from the Tigers to the Mariners in this trade, was removed from Thursday's Tigers-White Sox game as the deal grew closer to conclusion.
Rays pitcher Alex Cobb, who monitored the trade front Thursday, was surprised to see Price traded.
“I wasn't expecting this to happen,” Cobb said. “In my gut, I thought we'd keep him for the rest of the season and see what happens in the offseason.”
It happened because of the Rays' economic culture, their small-market, small-revenue status and the attendance issues.
In a statement released by the team, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg talked about Price's importance to the organization since Price's arrival in September 2008 and thanked him for his contributions to the team's success over the past six seasons.
Then Sternberg added, “These are difficult decisions we are forced to confront. Our fans have come to understand that reality, just as our organization has learned to operate with the challenges posed by the economic model and the growing disparity in our sport.”
Friedman has maintained that he could keep Price in 2015, though Price's salary likely will rise toward $20 million.
Moving the best pitcher during the team's best run of the season will be seen by many as a white flag trade, something that already infuriated a large segment of the fan base as they took to Twitter after the trade.
“I'm sure the fans are going to be upset,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Go ahead and be upset. I don't blame them. That's what fans are supposed to do.”
Silverman said this was not a white flag trade.
“It certainly makes our journey more difficult,” he said. “But we faced bigger obstacles in the past.”
Said Cobb: “The No. 1 message needs to be the fact there will be no quitting in the clubhouse. We're not throwing in the white towel. The 25 guys who show up will play hard every day. The desire to win and make the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs is still there.”
Price recorded the final outs in the biggest win in franchise history — Game 7 of the 2008 American League championship series against Boston. He is a four-time All-Star. He was the starting pitcher in the 2010 All-Star game. He earned the 2012 AL Cy Young Award when he became the first and only pitcher in franchise history to win 20 games.
“I hate losing David, absolutely,” Maddon said. “He was one of the best teammates I've ever been around. But you can't lament it, you can't worry about it. You got to keep moving it forward.”
Smyly, who pitched Thursday for the Tigers, will take Price's spot in the rotation and make his debut Tuesday night in Oakland. Meanwhile, Price joins a Tigers rotation that now boasts the past three AL Cy Young Award winners — Justin Verlander (2011), Price and Max Scherzer (2013). He could also face the Rays when the Tigers play a three-game series Aug. 19-21 at Tropicana Field.
Maddon left the Trop after Wednesday's loss — Price's last start as a Ray — expecting to see Price today when the team reassembles for the start of a weekend series with the Los Angeles Angels.
Now, he'll find a team stung by the loss of its best player, the one whose 6-0 run from June 15 and July 25 helped push the team to where it stands today.
Maddon's stance Wednesday might have been wishful thinking.
“(My) reaction is obviously you prefer that David didn't have to go, but then it doesn't surprise that he has to go under our working abilities here,” Maddon said. “It's not a huge surprise. It's disappointing in a sense that he was born a Ray, he helped propel us to the World Series. He's an outstanding pitcher.
“He's one of the best pitchers I've ever been around, so with all of that said, I hate losing the guy, and it's Detroit's gain.”