Despite an overall record of 45-53, the Rays' 9-4 mark in July has them 8.5 games back of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East, a division that has no clear-cut favorite this season. They’re trailing the Seattle Mariners by seven games in the wild-card hunt.
If the Rays truly plan on making a run at the postseason, they’re obviously better off keeping Price. At the same time, it also makes sense for the team to capitalize on his market and build toward the future, as illustrated by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:
Their chances to win are infinitely better with Price. But they also have to be realistic, as [Rays general manager Andrew] Friedman often reminds, in keeping one eye on the present and the other on the future, and take advantage of the opportunity to add the kind of premium young — and affordable — talent they need to maintain success.
The 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, Price is the definition of an ace. The 28-year-old turned in an excellent first half of the season, registering a 3.23 ERA while leading the league in strikeouts (164), innings pitched (147.2) and games started (20).
On top of that, Price is owed about $6 million for the remainder of the season and is under team control through 2015, meaning he’s a potential extension candidate for a suitor with a strong farm system and deep pockets.
The Rays' improved play over the last several weeks, and the limited suitors for Price, mean there’s a decent chance the team does not trade him this season. If that’s the case, we could see a few other front-line starters be made available before the deadline.
Cole Hamels is the real trade chip the Phillies have, especially if Price isn't traded. He is the one player who could bring back major league-ready impact prospects and escalate the Phillies' rebuilding process.
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Buster Olney (subscription required) identified three trade targets from the NL West:
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been contacted about 27-year-old lefty Wade Miley, who will be eligible for arbitration for the first time next winter, and who has just 34 walks in 105 1/3 innings this year. The San Diego Padres might be more interested in trading Ian Kennedy, but other teams will want to talk to them about Tyson Ross, who will have three years and 126 days of service time when this season is over, and amid the San Diego rubble, he continues to get better at age 27.
Basically, any team willing to trade a proven, team-controlled starter before the deadline is poised to receive a substantial return. And there surely will be even more teams that enter the mix for that reason.
However, Price is in his own class as the best pitcher believed to be on the trading block—and it’s not even close. Therefore, all eyes will be on him over the next two weeks, as his availability (or lack thereof) will continue to directly influence the market for starting pitching.