Might David Price be available, and might he be a good-to-excellent backup plan for the Toronto Blue Jays?
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Spoiler alert: The Toronto Blue Jays are looking for pitching. Good pitching. But they are not alone. Many other teams are in a similar position, and the options are starting to shrink – Blake Snell and Yu Darvish have already become Friars, Tomo Sugano’s deadline is fast approaching, and Masahiro Tanaka says that his chance of returning to Japan is “not zero”.
Toronto faces greater challenges in signing free agents than many other teams. A different country, crossing an international border, and the strong possibility that a significant part of 2021 will be played in a minor-league stadium do not help. So it would be imprudent to assume that the Blue Jays will be able to fill their needs on the free agent market. There are several good(ish) pitchers rumoured to be available for trade – Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo of the Reds, Danny Duffy of KC, and German Marquez of Colorado, to name a few – but, given the competition, these players will not come cheap, if at all.
To find a less conventional solution, let’s start by discussing what the Blue Jays need. While a Shane Bieber or Jacob deGrom would be nice (to dream on), the Jays already have an ace in Hyun Jin Ryu. So a solid #2 starter would be optimal. Someone to push Nate Pearson down to the #3 spot, reducing the pressure on him to excel right away, and let Robbie Ray start the year in the #4 slot to regain his mojo.
Ideally, the Jays would want 2+ years of control, so this player can provide a bridge to the Simeon Woods Richardson / Alek Manoah / Adam Kloffenstein / Eric Pardinho “second wave”. A veteran with a World Series ring or two would be nice, to help the “kids” understand what winning is like. And this pitcher should not come with a high prospect cost, as the Blue Jays are not yet in the position to make a Darvish-type prospect-rich deal.
Now let’s talk about what the Jays do not need. Toronto has the luxury of a high number of young, MLB-ready pitchers. So they are better equipped than most to gamble on a pitcher with some injury risk, and one that is unlikely to give 200 innings. The Jays have the further advantage of money to spend, so they do not need this pitcher to come with a low average annual contract cost (AAV). They can afford to pay (within reason) for the right man.
Still with me? OK then – let’s talk about David Price.
The Dodgers are currently at a payroll of roughly $200 million, which is under the 2021 luxury tax threshold of $210 million. But the Dodgers are said to be in serious pursuit of DJ LeMahieu, who will come with an AAV in the $20-25 million range, and may well be looking for further upgrades (or for room to make trade deadline moves). LA managed to avoid the luxury tax in 2019 and 2020 (helped in part by Price’s opt-out of the 2020 season due to covid). If they go over the luxury tax threshold in 2021, it will cost them a 20% penalty on the amount their payroll was over $210m. Given the luxury tax, and given that they won the World Series in 2021 without Price in the lineup (and arguably never wanted him in the first place – he was part of the price [sorry] of acquiring Mookie Betts), is it possible that they might not see David (and his remaining 2 years and $32 million) as an integral part of their 2021 team?
The Baseball Trade Values site shows Price’s trade value as negative – that is, they project him to earn less than $32 million of value over the next two years. If the Dodgers agree, it would follow that the cost to acquire DP would be minimal – in fact, it might even be a Francisco Liriano situation where the Dodgers add prospects to offset that negative value.
I find the idea of adding Price for two years intriguing. He sat out 2020, but has announced that he will play in 2021. He will play most of 2021 at 35 years old, and should be in decline, but from 2018-19 his 3.83 SIERA was 28th among starting pitchers, which would make him a solid #2. His fastball is slower than it was in his fireballing Rays days, but it still has a positive pitch value, and he still has a true 4-pitch mix. So he is not a one-trick pony, relying solely on a triple-digit heater. And he is said to be a positive clubhouse presence, and a teacher for young pitchers, especially lefties. While $16 million per year is not cheap (Price is actually making $32m per year, but Boston is paying half), neither is it extortionately high.
The bottom line
In an ideal world, the Jays would find a way to acquire a young superstud like Luis Castillo without denuding their farm system. They should absolutely pursue those kinds of possibilities. But the odds of success with “The Rock” are low, so it behooves the Toronto Blue Jays to have a fallback. In my view, Price would be an excellent backup plan.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.