This morning, Craig unpacked this article from Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi outlining the pursuit of both free agent Max Scherzer and the potential trades for expensive-but-already-signed Cole Hamels and David Price. On Tuesday, Rosenthal floated speculation that the Cardinals might also be in the double-secret-probation market for the services of James Shields, which Ben broke down in his post Wednesday morning.
Clearly, the Cardinals are kicking the tires on available starting pitchers. While we wait to hear them connected to Jordan Zimmermann and Bartolo Colon, let's take a deeper look at what a Hamels or Price trade might look like.
Given the Cardinals's tendency to construct their rosters and payroll with as much flexibility as possible, Price seems to make the most sense for St. Louis, an opinion that Derrick Goold confirmed in a radio appearances this morning.
I tweeted to Goold to confirm my suspicions on that opinion this afternoon but I've not received a reply yet -- perhaps he's penning a column on the subject (or is just busy with a comic book or something):
@dgoold If you had to lean one way on front office opinion, which way on Price over Hamels? Less to give up in trade or less guaranteed $?— Eric Johnson (@emjohnson17) January 8, 2015
I would suspect the Cardinals would prefer Price's situation. Plus, Dave Dombrowski is a more willing and rational trade partner than Ruben Amaro seems to be, especially given what has been relayed to fans this offseason from insiders like Buster Olney:
Many Rival evaluators find PHI asks on their players to be greatly overpriced within the context of the current market, as they did in July.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 19, 2014
Now, that was before Amaro traded Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins, but there hasn't been much indication since then that the asking price for Hamels has gone down.
Earlier this offseason, Jeff Sullivan put up this great piece on what a Hamels-to-the-Red-Sox trade might look like. Sullivan's analysis provides us a rough sketch of what a Cardinals-Phillies trade that brings Hamels to St. Louis might look like. Sullivan concludes that a reasonable headline prospect trade would look something like Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez straight up for Hamels, with Boston assuming all of Hamels contract but not having to guarantee his 2019 option (which adds $14M to his contract, so not inconsequential). He also lists Manuel Margot and Rafael Devers as straight up options, but they would likely require additional assets to go along with them.
The Cardinals don't really have anyone of the Owens/Rodriguez value in the high minors. Owens might actually be the next David Price, Marco Gonzalez isn't of that high-upside ilk and Tim Cooney isn't at that level of talent by any stretch. Alex Reyes is that skilled and is probably a bit better than Margot or Devers. If I thought Hamels could be had straight up for Alex Reyes, that's certainly a viable option. But that seems unlikely. The Cardinals would likely have to package something along with Reyes to bring back Hamels.
Sullivan proposes another hypothetical package, one consisting of two lesser prospects going to Philly. He names Garin Cecchini and Brian Johnson or Matt Barnes. A comparative package for the Cardinals would be Stephen Piscotty (Cecchini) and either Nick Petree or Rob Kaminsky (Johnson/Barnes). That's probably about right value wise, and certainly makes some sense for the Cardinals...
...but Amaro apparently decided during talks with Boston that the Phillies should also get Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts to headline the deal as well as another B prospect. He's crazy, you see. Maybe less crazy now than he was in November, but Hamels is the one piece that Amaro has that can save his job by bringing back talent with upside and doesn't require the Phillies to eat a ton of dead money. He's not going to let the lefty go lightly. If that's the price, then the Cardinals can't meet Amaro's demands without either giving up a significant big league player (like Matt Carpenter) or essentially gutting the farm (Reyes + Kaminsky + Piscotty would be roughly equal value).
This is why the Cardinals line up better with the Tigers for a David Price trade.
We have a pretty good clue as to what Price's value is, given that he was traded just 6 months ago, but it's complicated by the fact that the Tigers acquired the lefty in a three-team deal. Here's the trade, in case you need to jog your memory:
Traded Away: Austin Jackson, Drew Smyly, Willy Adames
Acquired: David Price
Traded Away: Nick Franklin
Acquired: Austin Jackson
Traded Away: David Price
Acquired: Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly, Willy Adames
Subtract two months of service time, probably the price of Adames (who is analogous to Edmundo Sosa with a tad more upside, if the Cardinals had such a prospect in their system), which leaves the price of Price (ahem) at a former top middle infield prospect with the ability to play SS who has seen his value slide a bit and a big league lefty with some platoon issues, really great stuff, and 5 years of service time.
Given Detroit's depth chart, a Marco Gonzales and Peter Bourjos package makes some sense for them, as they would need to replace Price in the rotation with Greene and Simon sliding up a notch to #3 and #4 respectively. Bourjos makes a good defensive platoon partner with the recently acquired Anthony Gose and makes Rajai Davis the odd man out. Given the bats they have and the stupid DH rule, the Tigers could easily put up with a defense-first platoon in center and might actually benefit considerably from that arrangement given the pitchers on their staff.
The question is whether Gonzales and Bourjos is enough. I'd gather that it's probably not.
I'd guess that Martinez and Bourjos would be the ask.
The latter would put Price in the rotation in place of El Gallo (and leave me with a fairly worthless Finkel T-shirt) for a year and probably cements Gonzales in the bullpen as a swingman in case someone gets hurt. But what happens in 2016? Price will be a free agent and so will John Lackey. The Cardinals would have two holes in the rotation with just Gonzales to fill the gap, meaning they would be betting on one of the Cooney/Lyons/Petree/Petrick group to fill the 5th spot or praying the Reyes/Kaminsky duo fly up the development ladder next summer. I wouldn't bet against either of those things happening, but it's a whole different ball of wax to count on it.
Perhaps that's not the way John Mozeliak sees it though. Perhaps he sees a chance to make a big bet on 2015, which may be the last really productive year for the Molina/Holliday/Peralta trio before they really begin to decline. Mozeliak may also have an eye towards the free agent pitching market after next season, which is shaping up to be even better than it was this offseason. Couple that with Jason Heyward and Jaime Garcia coming off the books and the reduction in Peralta's contract covering the increase in Matt Carpenter's deal, it's easy to see both a $20+ million deal for a position player and a $20+ million deal for a starting pitcher next offseason. There will likely plenty of both to shop from. What's more, the Cardinals could potentially secure two compensation picks if Heyward and Price sign elsewhere, which would offset any picks that might be lost were the Cards to ink another big-dollar free agent or two.
If the Cardinals make a trade, it's likely to be for David Price.
If the Price Is Right, that is.