It is widely believed that pitcher David Price is about to embark on his final season with the Rays, that the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner is about to price himself out of the market for the low-revenue club, just as Carl Crawford did after 2010 and B.J. Upton and James Shields did after last season.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Sunday that among the members of the team’s front office, that conclusion has not been reached and it is possible for the Rays to keep Price beyond this season.
“Oh yeah, sure,” Sternberg said. “Absolutely.”
But at what cost?
Sternberg acknowledged future payrolls will be hamstrung by the six-year, $100 million extension the team gave in November to third baseman Evan Longoria.
“(A contract like that is) gargantuan for us,” Sternberg said. “Numbers like that are a huge commitment for any team, and for us they’re as close to being off the table as possible, yet we did one this past offseason.”
Price will earn $10.1125 million this season. He is arbitration eligible for two more years, so he does remain under team control through the 2015 season. Yet, the $10 million mark seems to be the ceiling for Rays players.
“In a perfect world I could spend my whole career here. I feel at home with this organization. It’s a very special feeling that a lot of other guys probably don’t have elsewhere in baseball,” Price said. “If we could work something out, like I said before, that would be awesome and if not, I understand.”
Price said he is keenly aware of what other pitchers are making. Seattle’s Felix Hernandez signed a seven-year extension last month worth $175 million. Zach Greinke signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers during the offseason for $147 million over six years. In 2010, Detroit’s Justin Verlander signed a five-year, $80 million extension.
There is speculation that Price, should he duplicate his 2012 season, or Verlander could becomes baseball’s first $200 million pitcher.
“I do understand what all is going on in the realm of baseball, and I do know what the going price for starting pitching is these days,” Price said. “I don’t want to sell myself short. There is a fine point between getting X amount of dollars and being happy, and if you can meet that point in the middle and just take it from there I think you can definitely work something out.”
Sternberg’s comments about Price’s future and Longoria’s contract followed those about this year’s payroll, which, at just above $60 million, is a bit higher than Sternberg said it should be given the Rays’ poor attendance, which was last in the major leagues in 2012.
But Sternberg maintains executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is not tied to any hard figure and he can spend more if he feels the extra money will keep the Rays in contention.
But, how much further can Friedman go next season to keep Price?
“Andrew said and correctly that there is no question that we can handle a contract like David’s, but what are you able to put around him?” Sternberg said. “But right now, and correctly, David is focused on this season and we’re focused on this season and, speculatively, it’s way too early for people to be focused on what’s three years from now, four years from now.”
Price said he will not let his future be a distraction this season.
“I don’t think about it,” he said.
The Rays allowed Upton to leave as a free agent (he signed a five-year, $75.25 million contract with Atlanta) and traded Shields, who will make $11 million this year, to Kansas City along with Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson for four prospects, including outfielder Wil Myers, the consensus 2012 minor league player of the year.
The speculation is Price will leave in the same fashion as Shields, possibly as early as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline if the Rays are not in contention.
“There’s been speculation but we haven’t had those thoughts at all,” Sternberg said.
Price said he was glad to hear that.
“OK, cool,” Price said. “I didn’t think I was going to be traded at the All-Star break or anytime soon anyway, so that thought process hasn’t come into my mind.”
Meanwhile, Sternberg addressed other items on Sunday.
“The mayor and I had a meeting, a nice cordial conversation and we’ll see. I’m optimistic. Nobody wants to hear me talking about stadium things, so let the mayor and I handle that and everybody else can focus on what’s important, which is baseball.”
“The attendance, everybody knows the number. Last is last, so we’re anticipating an improvement on that, but we really don’t have any goals. We don’t try to set any goals. We want to be average in attendance and well above average in on-field performance. We’re right now settling for well-above average on on-field performance, and that’s the important thing.”
“We’ve had a couple of years where it was lower than it should be, and we’ve had a number of years when it was higher than it should be, and this is one of those years.”
“Really good. Unfortunately, last year we felt incredible about the team, and the last time we felt that way was coming into ’09, and they were the only two years we didn’t make the playoffs, however winning the number of games we won last year (90) is nothing to sneeze at.”