Would Tigers trade David Price?
Thursday will mark the one-year anniversary of the Prince Fielder trade. But we don’t need to wait that long for the annual reminder of Dave Dombrowski’s oft-used offseason phrase: There is no such thing as an untradeable player.
“I don’t think you go in and say someone’s untouchable,” Dombrowski said a few offseasons ago. “When you start doing that, you end up not making many trades. … They always used to say, if Barry Bonds is the best player in baseball at that time, and somebody offered you two Barry Bondses, you’d make the trade. And that’s just way it is. So I think you keep an open mind. Those things don’t happen very often, but I think we keep open minds to just about anything.”
The Tigers aren’t going to trade one David Price for two David Prices. That deal isn’t out there. But if the Tigers could trade one David Price for some help at other spots, and in the process gain payroll room to re-sign Max Scherzer, would they do it? Would they have to do it?
Expect no firm answers until Scherzer (or Price) signs a long-term contract somewhere.
“You know it’s coming,” an American League talent evaluator said before last week’s MLB General Manager Meetings, “the interest [from teams] at least.”
Sure enough, there’s interest out there if the Tigers eventually decide to go ahead with a deal. The Tigers, as is Dombrowski’s nature, are in a position to listen to inquiries, according to an industry source. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince writes along the same lines.
“I wouldn’t get into any individual discussions,” Dombrowski said Friday about trade talks in general at last week’s GM meetings. “I would say that when you’re at the General Managers meetings, I was probably asked about every player just about that we have, at one time or another.”
Dombrowski reminded reporters of the tie-in with Price last Friday when asked about the Tigers’ chances of re-signing Scherzer.
“We’ll just wait and see how that happens,” Dombrowski said Friday. “But I will say we’re comfortable with the four starters that we have, and we’re also comfortable going with a fifth guy that’s a young guy, if we get into that situation. We did acquire David Price, as we said at the time, to help us in this type of situation.”
While there’s no shortage of starting talent on the free-agent market, both this offseason and next, that’s not necessarily appealing for teams seeking a short-term rotation fit. Price is eligible for free agency after next season, and if he hits the open market, he’ll be easily the best of the bunch. Really, he’d be the best starting pitcher to hit the market since maybe Cliff Lee after the 2010 season.
For a team that could use a youth infusion and more of a balance of talent, Price would be an enticing piece to offer up. For a team that’s still trying to win now, however, Price is a tremendous pitcher, the ace of a rotation for a team whose rotation is its strength.
Price and Porcello are projected to make $31.1 million combined next season under MLBTradeRumors’ arbitration forecast. Add that to the salaries due to Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez under their long-term contracts, and Detroit is due to pay more than $75 million for their top four starters. To add Scherzer without an accompanying move, even under the reported $24 million annual salary of the offer Scherzer didn’t take in Spring Training, and the five-man rotation would approach or surpass the $100 million mark.
Again, trading Price only would make sense if the Tigers could re-sign Scherzer as a result. While the Tigers figure they can fill one rotation void internally with Robbie Ray or one of the many other rookie starters they used in spots last year, it’s another thing entirely to believe they can do that with two spots.
To trade away Price and then sign another free-agent starter besides Scherzer would defeat a purpose. Trading Price would forfeit the compensation pick they’d receive in 2016 if Price signs elsewhere next winter. Re-signing another free agent who turned down a qualifying offer (James Shields, Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana) would cost the Tigers their upcoming first-round pick, currently 24th overall.
Re-signing Scherzer would obviously mean they wouldn’t recoup the compensation pick they’d pick up if he signed elsewhere. But giving up a comp pick and giving up a traditional pick are two different things.
Ultimately, the wrench in such a plan could come down to timing. Reunion or no, agent Scott Boras has a history of having top free agents linger on the market past the Winter Meetings, sometimes past the holidays, in order to give the market time to build. While there might be more buzz about Jon Lester and James Shields right now than Scherzer, some teams are going to lose out on Lester and Shields, and that could lead some to Scherzer and give Boras enough teams to build a market.
More commonly, big trades happen around the Winter Meetings. Justin Upton went from Arizona to Atlanta in late January 2013, and the Mariners traded Michael Pineda to New York in January 2012, and Matt Garza went from the Rays to the Cubs in January 2011. In 2009, 2010 and 2014, however, there were no big deals. And other than Upton, no player trade had as big of a financial footprint as Price.
To hold onto both would pretty much ensure the Tigers entering luxury tax territory ($189 million) for a year. It’s not a foreign scenario for the Tigers, who paid luxury tax in 2008 after trading for Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Edgar Renteria the previous offseason. But that was under MLB’s previous system. The first-year tax rate is reportedly 12.5%, and goes up quickly from there for repeat offenders.