Why the Rays May Not Trade David Price

The AL East isn't strong, and the Rays could decide to hang onto their prized starter and stay in the fight.

As the rest of the American League East crashes and burns, the Tampa Bay Rays have a difficult decision in front of them.

You know what? It's not a crazy question. Although they lost to the Royals 5-4 on Wednesday night, Tampa is the hottest team in the AL East, a fact that is making things very hard on general manager Andrew Friedman.

As recently as June 25th, the Rays were 32-48, 12 games out of first and 10.5 games out of the wild card, with eight American League teams in front of them. Since then, the Rays have gone 11-4, are 42-52, trail the wild card by 8.5 games and are 9.0 games out of first place.

And while that still seems like an awfully big hill to climb - and it is - it may not seem as daunting when one considers the state of the rest of the division.

The New York Yankees just lost their ace, Masahiro Tanaka, to the 15-day disabled list due to elbow inflammation. He's scheduled to undergo an MRI, and there are worries he could be out for much longer. That's on top of having already lost CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda for the season, and the team also scratched Carlos Beltran and Brett Gardner from the lineup last night as well.

The Toronto Blue Jays, after losing 8-7 to the Angels Wednesday night, are 3-9 in their last 12 games and have fallen out of first place, 2.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles. They've also lost slugging first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and third baseman Brett Lawrie to the 15-day DL, and saw their star outfielder Jose Bautista miss seven straight starts at the end of June because of a hamstring injury. The Orioles are playing well, at 49-41 and 7-3 in their last 10, although they feature a starting rotation that has just one pitcher with an ERA under 4.00 (Bud Norris at 3.62). And the defending champs, the Boston Red Sox, are 40-51, looking to get younger, and playing for next season.

It's not crazy to think the Rays might decide to keep David Price off the market and make a run at a division that is still very vulnerable. Heck, if they stay hot, they could even become light spenders this month.

The Rays have made a nice turnaround over the last two weeks, with most of the improvements coming on offense. They've scored the fifth-most runs in baseball during that time (64), slugged 18 home runs (fourth-best in the AL), and posted a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .345 (also fourth-best in the American League). Their staff ERA over the last 14 days is 3.76, which is just 9th-best in the AL during that time.

So what does this mean for David Price? He is under contract through 2015, which means two things. First, that extra year would give any team that acquires him a year and a half of control, which would likely generate a better return for the Rays. But it also means that the Rays do not have to trade him this month. They could trade him in the winter or at next year's trade deadline, although if they wait, their return back could be less.

If the Rays do pull Price off the market, these starters all move up any team's list of starting rotation targets.

Jon Lester (BOS)
Cole Hamels (PHI)1.881.92.879.063.14
Ian Kennedy (SD)
Cliff Lee (PHI)1.341.
A.J. Burnett (PHI)
Colby Lewis (TEX)1.501.25.517.932.87
Jake Peavy (BOS)1.760.74.646.833.42
Scott Feldman (HOU)
Jorge De La Rosa (COL)1.490.64.756.523.91
Kyle Kendrick (PHI)1.790.54.465.562.58
Scott Baker (TEX)0.590.15.845.841.64

Lester and Hamels are in the top tier of starters, although it's no sure thing either will be dealt. Lester and the Red Sox are reportedly still working on a contract extension, and the Phillies have said they are reluctant to trade Hamels, although if some team offers them a top-25 prospect and some other pieces, it will be hard for general manager Ruben Amaro to say no.

Kennedy and Lee are in the second tier, with Kennedy the most likely of the four mentioned so far to get dealt. Lee would probably have been a great bet to go too, but his elbow injury, in conjunction with his contract, has certainly raised red flags for other teams. Lee is expected to rejoin the team just after the All-Star break, and should get three starts in which to audition for possible contenders. The rest of the arms there could help a team looking for stability at the back of the rotation.

David Price is clearly the best starter who could be made available, but it's no longer a sure thing he's going to go anywhere this month. And as July 31 draws ever closer, that could be very good news for the general managers of all the pitchers listed above.