The Tampa Bay Rays want to do it, but come on, man, how can they?
The Boston Red Sox don’t really want to do it from an emotional standpoint, but from the business side, they’ve got no choice.
The Philadelphia Phillies sort of want to do it, know they don’t have to, but are wondering if they should really should.
Welcome to the dwindling hours of Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline, where teams are frantically wondering whether to trade the most coveted commodity on the market – elite starting pitching – by the 4 p.m. ET Thursday deadline.
We canvassed seven high-ranking front office executives and scouts around the game to get the answer for us. The officials – who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of trade discussions – not only helped reveal the value of these pitchers in this heavy sellers’ market, but prepared us for a possible doozy.
You remember that Los Angeles Dodgers-Red Sox trade two years ago when the Red Sox dumped $262.5 million worth of salaries, and became a World Series champion a year later, while the Dodgers emerged from obscurity to prominence?
Well, don’t be surprised if it happens again.
The Phillies are the team most poised to do a copycat version of the Red Sox’s mega trade of two years ago. They are shopping starters Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett, and are willing to give away first baseman Ryan Howard and closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Makes sense for them. But the guy everyone wants is Cole Hamels.
The Phillies really don’t want to trade him, considering he is signed through 2018. They aren’t making him readily available. And considering they are flush with money and have a new TV deal, his $22.5 million salary is no problem.
Yet, according to one-ranking official directly involved with the talks, the Los Angeles Dodgers recently asked for Hamels. They were told the price would be three of their top prospects – center fielder Joc Pederson, shortstop Corey Seager and left-handed pitcher Julio Urias.
Sorry, the Dodgers said, but no interest.
The Phillies haven’t dropped their price tag, and are insisting on three top prospects and a mid-tier prospect in any deal for Hamels. Yet, since no one else has come forward, they could lower the asking price if Hamels is packaged with bad, bloated contracts like ones belonging to Howard and Papelbon, clearing more than $150 million off the books.
The Phillies, who refuse to go over the $189 million luxury tax, suddenly would have money to hit the market again this winter, sign free-agent starter Max Scherzer or Jon Lester, and even infielder Hanley Ramirez.
While the Phillies say there have been no talks involving a package deal, several executives came to the same conclusion when broached with the idea: Love it. Do it. Now.
Oddly, the Dodgers could be the ones doing it in reverse this year, packaging outfielder Matt Kemp and the remaining $113 million in his contract, or Andre Ethier ($61 million), with one of their top three prospects to land Lester.
Kemp wants out of Los Angeles if he can’t be their everyday center fielder. The Dodgers want Kemp out since he’s not going to be their everyday center fielder. The only question is whether Kemp is dealt now or this winter.
The Red Sox, who spoiled a lot of sellers’ plans by dropping out of the playoff race, are now damaging them even more by shopping Lester.
The Red Sox would like to keep Lester, who’s a free agent in three months, but only at their price, which was $70 million over four years in spring training. Lester, 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA, and on pace for his sixth 200-inning season in seven years, could likely command about double the Red Sox’s original offer.
Certainly, Lester is saying all the right things. He says he wants to stay and he would be willing to return to Boston as a free agent. Yet once Lester is on the open market, even the Red Sox realize he’ll be gone forever. In perhaps a signal of a move, they scratched Lester’s scheduled start today.
The asking price for Lester is two Grade A prospects, according to executives involved with the Red Sox talks. Lester is invaluable, and proved it a year ago in the World Series, but having him for only two months and one pennant race won’t bring nearly the haul Price could.
Indeed, the executives tell us Price could elicit three elite prospects. He’s not only pitching better than anyone in the game not named Clayton Kershaw, but the winner of the sweepstakes gets Price for about 42 starts, who can impact two pennant races.
The team also receives exclusive negotiating rights for 15 months, and if they don’t sign him, receives valuable draft-pick compensation. There would be no draft pick compensation for failing to lock up Lester because he’d be traded in the middle of the season.
The Rays certainly are tempted to trade Price. They know they could receive a tantalizing package from the St. Louis Cardinals that could include prized 22-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras, 23-year-old starter Shelby Miller and their first-round pick in the 2015 compensation pool.
The Rays’ front office could sell it to their fan base that Price would be around for only 10 starts this year anyway before trading him and his projected 2015 salary of $20 million this winter, and set themselves up for the future.
It may make perfect business sense, the high-ranking executives say, but with the Rays on a 28-12 run – climbing within seven games of the division lead and 4 ½ games of a wild card spot – good luck explaining your decision to the clubhouse. The Rays have no choice but to keep him and deal him for a lesser return this winter,
the executives say, if they want to avoid a clubhouse mutiny.
The Rays, remember, have a history of trading their aces during the winter, not the summer. Matt Garza was traded in January 2011, to the Chicago Cubs. James Shields went to the Kansas City Royals in December 2012.
Price, who’s scheduled to make his next start Wednesday afternoon against the Milwaukee Brewers, should be traded afterward to the Cardinals or Dodgers.
It just may be five months afterwards …unless someone makes an offer the Rays just can’t refuse.
A baseball trading deadline looms, and someone surely is going to surprise us.
A World Series berth awaits.
We’ll find out if the two happen to intersect.