I suppose I can’t avoid this, so let’s break it down:
But, suggests several general managers, the Dodgers can avoid the loss of their number one pick and the slot money if they trade for David Price and get Masahiro Tanaka from Japan. “They have the minor league talent to get Price,” says one GM. “If they would trade Corey Seager and Julio Urias (the 17-year old lefthanded pitcher) and a couple out of Zach Lee, Joc Pederson or Chris Withrow, it would get it done. Then if they post $80M for Tanaka, they could have a rotation with four number ones and a number two with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Price, Tanaka and Hyun-jin Ryu. But if they were to trade for Price, they’d need the draft pick to fill holes in their development system.”
Uh-huh. First off, and no disrespect to the legendary Peter Gammons, I think we all know by now how much stock to put into “industry sources”. Even the GM who reportedly said that might have been just A) spitballing like the rest of us, B) hoping the Dodgers would actually do that, or C) jealous of a situation where teams could even consider it.
And let’s be honest here: a rotation with Kershaw, Greinke, Price and Ryu is just obscenely good, even without Tanaka around. That’s not just “best rotation in baseball” stuff, that’s “best rotation in the history of the sport” quality. If you heavily buy into the whole “flags fly forever” thing and your primary goal is a championship in 2014 above all else, no matter what it does to the future, then by all means, go get Price, who is only 28 and has a 2012 Cy Young on his mantle and a 5.59 K/BB rate in 2013. (Along with missing six weeks due to a strained triceps.)
But you know me, and you know I don’t think like that, and that’s why the whole idea is troublesome. I say that as someone who thinks Dodger fans have somewhat overrated Pederson (who is likely to be a solid regular, though not a superstar) and Lee (also likely to be a solid regular instead of a star), and that Urias is still seventeen.
The problem here is threefold, really. One, I’m not sure if that’s even enough to get Price. Remember, last winter, the Rays traded James Shields (along with Wade Davis, a solid reliever who Kansas City turned into a terrible starter) when he had two years remaining, as Price does. Shields is a very good pitcher. He’s also not close to being as good as Price is, and that deal brought back Wil Myers, a consensus top-five (or higher!) prospect, along with former top-100 prospects Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, plus low-level infielder Patrick Leonard.
Seager’s a very good prospect, and I’m extremely high on him. I also know that he’s not quite as well-regarded as Myers, and Price is better than Shields. Other teams can beat that offer if they want to. You might argue, as many have, that Kansas City GM Dayton Moore was foolish to have pulled the trigger on that deal, and you might be right. But I’m also assuming you haven’t forgotten Ned Colletti exists. Obviously you can only compare this theoretical package to the other ones out there, not to what may have been a once-in-a-lifetime deal, but it’s important to remember that even a package that scares us isn’t necessarily a slam dunk.
Two, Seager is probably the most irreplaceable prospect the Dodgers have. (And no, there’s no way Price comes to Los Angeles without Seager heading back.) I like Pederson a lot, but obviously with the outfield being what it is, he’s more likely than not to get traded, and I can live with some other team taking on the risk of Urias. But Seager has the potential to be a plus hitter at one of the two left-side infield positions for a long time, and he could be ready as soon as 2015. There’s never a guarantee, of course, but you also know how barren the infield is in the Dodger system. You can replace Pederson. You can replace Urias. Seager? Not so easily.
Three, you don’t trade for Price if you’re not willing to extend him, and he’ll get an astronomical contract. Maybe not quite what Kershaw will get, because Price is a few years older, but easily $100 million and (assuming inflation rates) likely closer to $200 million. I know we joke about the Dodgers having an unlimited budget, but even I’m not comfortable with the idea of Greinke being only the third-highest paid starter, perhaps a distant third. Stan Kasten has long said that the plan was to make a huge upfront spending plan to quickly fix what Frank McCourt ruined, but long-term this needs to be a team that builds from within. Blowing up your farm system by trading four of your top five prospects isn’t a very efficient way to do that.
So sure, I’d love to see Price in Dodger blue, and I have to admit that the way they wooed him through his dog when the Rays visited in August was cute. But the price Tampa will (rightfully) demand for him is likely to be bigger than we can stomach, and even the richest team in the world has to act with some sort of discipline. (He says, while knowing Tanaka will command a bigger price than Yu Darvish and hoping the Dodgers get him…)