Washington Nationals 2013 Off-Season Targets: David Price/James Shields
This is a move that cannot be viewed in a vacuum. If the Nationals are making a trade for Price or Shields it is because they have either retained the services of Adam LaRoche or have signed an outfielder to replace his bat in the line-up. This move may also facilitate a follow-up move. It can be assured that in any trade discussions Danny Espinosa's name will come up and in order to secure a player like Price he will need to be moved. The 2013 free agent second base class is a scary place with the best names being Kelly Johnson and Marco Scutaro. Both might be better back-ups to Steve Lombardozzi than they would be starters.
It is important to consider what a trade for either Shields or Price would look like since either very likely costs at least one MLB player. The Rays need hitting. They scored the fourth fewest runs in the AL and lack depth at short, catcher, first, and corner outfield. What the Rays do have is pitching, and what they don't have is money. Despite winning 90 games and contending for the entire season the Rays finished at the bottom of the AL in attendance. With Price going through the arbitration process after a Cy Young worthy season and Shield's team options starting to get expensive the Rays are entering a crisis point where it might be too expensive to hang onto both.
As for trading Price it was with three years before free agency that they traded Matt Garza to the Cubs. Price is at that point now and the Rays may decide that now is the time that they can get the most value for him. Now this is a bad PR message, but that almost doesn't matter for the Rays. They are stuck in a bad stadium that no one can get to in a city full of people not all that interested in baseball. Trading their franchise pitcher would be the death keel, and a sure sign that they will soon be headed out of town.
To figure out what Price should be worth in a trade consider that the Rays received a far away but highly thought of short stop prospect, a mid level pitching prospect, and three close to major league ready utility players. Also consider that for Gio Gonzalez with a similar contract situation the Nationals gave up two close to major league ready back of the rotation arms, a close to major league ready catcher, and a far away high ceiling pitching prospect. David Price is a better pitcher than Gio and should cost more in a trade.
Espinosa is the answer to that. Elite defensive middle infielders with 20 homer power are rare, and worth quite a bit in a trade. The Rays would want more than Espinosa and if the Nats have a new outfielder in the fold the Michael Morse may be the one to go. Morse isn't a young major leaguer or a prospect, but he will only be making $5 million next season and the Rays need offense. If for some reason they aren't contending around the trade deadline Morse can be flipped for the prospects they didn't receive in the Price deal. The Rays may won't a bullpen arm as well, because the Rays always want bullpen arms.
The final piece of the deal will be a pitching prospect like Alex Meyer who has a lot of potential and having finished his season at high A could begin next season at AA and end up in the majors sometime in 2014. He is closer than AJ Cole was and the deal described is a large price to pay for any player, but an established Ace like David Price may be worth it.
Price's value in the Nationals rotation is that he would be a fourth dominant pitcher and his value over Edwin Jackson doesn't need to be explained. Price is a lefty, but that has value to the Nationals in the fact that they face the lefty heavy Braves and Phillies on a regular basis. The players lost in the deal will set the Nationals offense back depending on who else is signed. Steve Lombardozzi is a more traditional slap hitting middle infielder with little to now power and while he plays solid defense he is nowhere close to the elite level of Danny Espinosa. With three top of the rotation starters already in the fold it might not make sense to be trading from the major league roster to upgrade the rotation. On the other hand pitchers like David Price are a rare breed and whenever one can be snagged they should be.
If the talk does shift to Shields it has to be considered that he isn't as good a pitcher as Price and that he has two team options left before he becomes a free agent. One less year for a lesser pitcher isn't worth Danny Espinosa, but it is more valuable than what remains of that deal. The Rays may then decide that they want a younger version of Morse in Tyler Moore and to pry one of the Nationals young catchers away. The value of Sandy Leon as a switch hitting catcher who's defense is highly regarded has been underestimated by many, but he is the type of player the Rays would be looking to snag.
What James Shields brings is more understated than Price. Shields is known more for the number of innings he pitches than for his dominance but his K/9 the last three seasons has been on par with Price. Shields is more prone to giving up homeruns but Nationals Park is a pitcher friendly park and that could help him some. The lower cost in players doesn't make Shields more desirable because he is not David Price. If it is an either or situation then Price will be had even if it does cost Danny Espinosa. As to what they would add over Edwin Jackson, Sheilds is continently around a 4.0 fWAR pitcher for his career and Price 5.0. So it is either a win or two over Jackson's 2.7 fWAR from 2012, but the Nationals can look to extend either like they did for Gio after trading for him.
There is no doubt that either Price or Shields would be a good get for the Nationals. Both upgrade the rotation for 2013 and are under contract for at least one season after that. Price and Shields are also both better than any free agent starting pitcher outside of Zack Greinke. The money saved by trading for Price or Shields can then be used to sign an outfielder to upgrade the outfield defense and replace whatever offense was lost in acquiring Price or Shields. This is a move that could improve the Nationals, but cannot be viewed in a vacuum it has to be part of a chain of moves and that combination of moves could be better than a simple signing of Zack Greinke.