Multiple teams are reportedly targetting Boston Red Sox left-handed pitcher David Price, increasing the likelihood that he gets traded.
The clearest path for the Boston Red Sox to accomplish their goal of shedding payroll is to unload their most expensive player and that means trading David Price. While his mammoth contract was once believed to be unmovable, interest around the league in acquiring the lefty appears to be growing rapidly.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, multiple teams have targetted Price in trade talks. He adds that the Red Sox would potentially need to attach another valuable asset or pay a chunk of the $96 million that remains on Price’s contract over the next three years.
The sudden buzz around Price isn’t all that surprising. Yes, he’s expensive but his deal doesn’t seem quite as burdensome in the wake of Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole signing massive contracts that eclipse Price’s for the most lucrative ever given to a pitcher.
With the top pitchers now off the market, teams may pivot toward acquiring a frontline starter on the trade market. Price may be overpaid but the relatively short commitment is easier for teams to absorb rather than shell out more long-term money for the second-tier starters who are still available.
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Price’s 2019 season was viewed as a disappointment but his overall numbers are marred by a rough patch while he attempted to pitch through a cyst that limited the motion in his wrist. The lefty was 7-2 with a 3.16 ERA before the ailment derailed his season.
He had surgery to remove the cyst and every indication is that Price will be ready for spring training, in which case there’s little reason to believe he can’t pitch to the level he was at before the injury or approach his excellent 2018 season.
Is there some risk in a 34-year old who hasn’t come close to 200 innings since 2016? Sure, but it’s no riskier than committing a longer deal to a second-tier free-agent starter who is also on the wrong side of 30 – let alone NINE years for the 29-year old Cole.
Which teams are interested?
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the St. Louis Cardinals are a potential suitor for Price. The Cardinals were the runner-up to the Red Sox in the Price sweepstakes four years ago and apparently remain intrigued.
St. Louis is approximately $21 million below the luxury tax, per Spotrac. Boston would need to eat a healthy chunk of Price’s salary in order to keep the Cardinals out of tax territory.
The Red Sox could instead ask about taking back Andrew Miller in the deal to lighten the financial load for the Cards. He’s owed $11.5 million in 2020 but counts for $12.5 million against the tax. A straight swap of Price for Miller would keep both teams under the tax threshold.
Miller has disappointed over the last two years and the 34-year old may never regain his All-Star form. However, he could still be a useful asset for a Red Sox team in need of a bullpen upgrade. Rolling the dice on his upside seems more appealing than having dead money on their payroll from paying part of Price’s contract while searching the scrap heap for another reliever.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that Boston has spoken to the San Diego Padres about a Price trade. While he tempers expectations by indicating a deal isn’t close, the mention of Wil Myers sets up an interesting scenario.
The Padres are eager to unload Myers, who is owed $68.5 million over the next three years (including the $1 million buyout for his 2023 club option). Jayson Stark of The Atletic recently reported they were willing to attach prospects in a deal to dump his salary.
Myers will make a whopping $22.5 million in each of the next three years but only counts for about $13.8 million against the luxury tax due to the average annual value of his contract. The Padres are nowhere near the threshold so they aren’t all that concerned about how his contract is treated for tax purposes, they simply want to avoid paying his salary.
A Price for Myers swap adds only about $27.5 million over the next three years to San Diego’s payroll and they end up with the best player in the deal. Dropping from Price’s $31 million tax hit to Myers saves the Red Sox about $17 million for tax purposes in each of the next three seasons.
While Myers would be an expensive gamble for a Red Sox team that still wants to contend, he’s a former All-Star who mashed 30 homers as recently as 2017. His last two seasons have seen some serious regression but escaping pitcher-friendly Petco Park could boost his numbers at the plate. He could fill Boston’s vacancy at first base or a corner outfield spot.
The two teams in Los Angeles who lost out on Cole could pivot toward Price if their other fallback plans in free agency don’t pan out. The Dodgers and Angels both have the financial flexibility to afford Price’s contract so they may not push for Boston to take responsibility for as much of his remaining salary as other teams would.
The frenzy of free agency and an emerging trade market could alter the direction of several teams but as the big names continue to drop off the board, Price will continue to be more appealing to those in need of a rotation upgrade. There are clearly teams that are already interested and we’re starting to see a feasible path toward the Red Sox trading Price in a deal that isn’t a pure salary dump.