David Price is probably a top ten pitcher in Major League Baseball. For the fifth consecutive season, Price is pitching like an indisputable ace. And in spite of an occasionally disconcerting social media presence, any reasonable Cardinals fan with any desire for victory would, in a vacuum, prefer a Cardinals rotation including David Price to a Cardinals rotation not including David Price.
But this is in a vacuum. In reality, acquiring David Price may not be such a good idea.
Now, I would never say never on any player’s potential involvement in a trade because, technically, anything could happen. It is extremely unlikely that I would ever endorse a scenario in which Adam Wainwright or Yadier Molina would be traded, but if a GM were to put Clayton Kershaw or Mike Trout (don’t overestimate the Angels here) on the table, I would expect and assume the Cardinals to be all ears. What it boils down to is that teams do not want to give up their known commodities (nor should they), but would be willing to do so if the return they would receive on the trade were high enough.
Is David Price "that guy", a dynamic performer of such a high skill level that his transcendence would be worth a collection of half a dozen unknown but promising commodities? Well…maybe. I don’t think he’s quite to that level—less because of Price being inadequate and more because I think the non-Wainwright pieces of the Cardinals rotation (the metronomic Lance Lynn, the metronomic-when-healthy Michael Wacha, the upside-loaded Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez, and the less exciting but mostly steady Joe Kelly) are less of a downgrade from David Price than some Cardinals fans seem to believe. But regardless of whether or not Price is "that guy" is secondary. What concerns me most is the impatience among many Cardinals fans for a team that maybe, just maybe, won’t win the World Series.
You know how many times the St. Louis Cardinals have made the playoffs three years in a row? Four times: 1942 to 1944 (winning the World Series twice and winning the NL pennant all three times, an impressive accomplishment even considering the context of an eight-team league and being at the height of player enlistment in World War II); 2000 to 2002 (with two NLDS losses and one NLCS loss); 2004 to 2006 (one World Series win, one World Series loss, and one NLCS loss); and 2011 to 2013 (same results as 2004-2006). If the Cardinals make the playoffs in 2014, which they may or may not do with or without David Price, it’d be the longest stretch of consecutive playoff appearances in the long, storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals. And the fans that would get to enjoy such success would be part of the same generation of fans who enjoyed two of the previous three greatest runs in team history.
These are the good old days, and they are happening before our very eyes.
The Cardinals organization should constantly be striving for greatness, obviously. But they shouldn’t be willing to abandon the sustained excellence of the last decade to load up for one run at a title. If the strategy of loading up for one run works, you can be the Miami (former Florida) Marlins, who have won as many titles in my lifetime as the Cardinals but also have no additional playoff appearances. Worst case scenario, you are the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, who were the best team in baseball before trading four top minor league prospects for Hunter Pence but nevertheless lost in the playoffs to the St. Louis Cardinals because, well, the best team in baseball doesn’t always win the World Series.
Obviously, if I told you that trading for David Price would make this team the 2011 (and successive years) Phillies, everybody would decline it. But let’s be optimistic and say that the Cardinals become the 2003 and beyond Marlins. Now, the 2003 Marlins were a fun team—I assume that hardcore Marlins fans get every bit as giddy about the words "Game Six" in the context of the 2003 NLCS as Cardinals fans do in the context of the 2011 World Series. And it was a great run and flags fly forever and the memories are worth a thousand pictures and a picture is worth a thousand words and nothing lasts forever even cold November Rain…I get it. But realistically, is that what you want? It’s not what I want.
The hypothetical "would you take this for that?" game is tough because so much of baseball’s joy comes from the unpredictable, so knowing future outcomes would likely ruin the whole experience, but let’s try it: Would you take a guaranteed World Series title followed by a decade of mostly bland, inevitably mediocre-to-bad baseball (this is generously implying that the Marlins’ dog days are over), or would you prefer a run like that of the Oakland Athletics, who are consistently strong, maybe with a bout of mediocrity sprinkled in but with plenty of October, and at least September, excitement, but ultimately lacking a ring? I suppose the answer depends on what your primary goal is as a sports fan—is it entertainment or is it validation? If it is validation, if it is feeling that your team needs to win a title for you, perhaps you go with the Marlins. But I want, if given my druthers, to experience constant excitement. I want my team in the hunt every single year. I am not so personally obsessed with accumulating jewelry that I would choose that over the hope, the thrills, and the excitement that even a championship-less postseason can produce. And that’s assuming the absolute best from David Price.
Again, if the Rays are giving away David Price, the Cardinals should take him. But the Rays aren’t. And to acquire him, it will likely take victory in a bidding war. It will likely mean the Cardinals part ways with Oscar Taveras, a high-end pitching prospect, and at least one or two other legitimate prospects/current big leaguers. It may mean a worse team in 2014. It may even mean waiting out on a ring. And as the song says, the waiting is the hardest part. But at its core, sports are about the journey of the season and not the destination.
(Image via STLCardinalBaseball.com)