According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cardinals are one of the top contenders for David Price. This is not that much of a surprise, since the Cardinals have shown previous interest in Price and now have an opening in their rotation with the loss of Lance Lynn. But the Cardinals will have some formidable competition in the Price sweepstakes. Rosenthal also listed the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Red Sox as the other top contenders for Price.
This is not terribly surprising, considering that Price is the top free agent on the market and fills a need for just about every team. It is also notable that all of these teams, with the exception of the Cardinals, come from major markets and are able to support large payrolls. The Dodgers, Red Sox, and Giants had three of the top five payrolls in 2015 while the Cubs were 13th, two spots behind the Cardinals. Price will command an enormous contract, and there are only so many teams that are willing to make such a commitment.
Here is a look at each of the teams the Cardinals will be competing against in their efforts to sign David Price.
Going into the offseason, many people saw the Cubs as the favorites to land Price. They are certainly capable of being competitive over the next few years, and many have pointed out that Price might be interested in being reunited with manager Joe Maddon. (I personally think that people overstate how much this impacts a player's decision. I find it hard to believe that a player would take a significant pay cut just to play for a manager he likes.)
With that being said, the Cubs may not be able to offer Price as much money as teams like the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Giants. Despite operating in one of the largest markets in baseball, the Cubs have had to keep their payroll lower than usual in recent years due to financial issues related to the purchase of the team back in 2009. They are already paying Jon Lester a high salary for the next five years, and they will eventually have to give major raises to their young core of players. They already have $81 million dollars in commitments for 2016, and MLB Trade Rumors projects that they will pay an additional $32.7 million dollars in arbitration salaries. This puts them very close to their 2015 Opening Day payroll of $120 million dollars. It seems likely that their payroll will be higher in 2016, but the question is by how much. The Cubs still have a hole to fill in the outfield as well, since Dexter Fowler is now a free agent. They have shown interest in Jason Heyward, so it seems possible that they could spend their money on a high-end outfielder instead.
The Dodgers have the money to sign Price if they so desire, and it seems reasonable to expect them to go after a high-end starter now that Zack Greinke is a free agent. Rosenthal noted that Price would be reunited with former Rays GM Andrew Friedman, who was running the team when they drafted Price. I cannot imagine that this would make much of a difference on Price's end, but perhaps Friedman's familiarity with Price could lead him to offer more money than other teams.
Cardinals Hot Stove
Cardinals Rumors: Price, Zobrist, and Heyward
The Cardinals appear to be very active in Hot Stove action this winter.
Cardinals Hot Stove
The only issue for the Dodgers is the luxury tax, which they would almost certainly have to pay if they were to sign a player like Price. The luxury tax threshold for 2016 will be $189 million, and the Dodgers already have $171 million dollars in commitments for next year, which does not include an estimated $30 million dollars of arbitration salaries. The Dodgers have paid the luxury tax each of the last three years, and they will probably have to do so again in 2016. Perhaps this will not stop them from signing a player like Price, but it should be noted that the luxury tax penalties get steeper the more a team exceeds the luxury tax threshold. Teams who exceed the threshold for four or more years in a row will have to pay a 50 percent tax on every payroll dollar above $189 million. The Dodgers are capable of spending this money, but doing so might not be seen as a worthwhile endeavor by Andrew Friedman and the rest of the Dodgers' front office.
(If you want to read more about the MLB luxury tax, I would highly recommend this piece by Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs.)
The Giants have good reason to go after a high-end starting pitcher, considering the fact that their rotation is full of question marks after Madison Bumgarner. The good news for the Giants is that they probably do not have to worry about the luxury tax, as their total commitments for 2016 are currently at $136 million, which includes estimated arbitration salaries. The Giants have also shown a willingness to pay top dollar for free agent starting pitchers, as they reportedly made the highest offer to Jon Lester a year ago.
The Giants have several holes to fill, though, and they may not want to spend all of their available resources on one high-end player like David Price. They will need to find at least one other starting outfielder, as Nori Aoki is now a free agent and Angel Pagan struggled mightily in center field. They may also be better off getting two free agent starting pitchers instead of one, depending on how they feel about Jake Peavy, Matt Cain, and Chris Heston.
According to Peter Gammons, the Red Sox may be willing to pay $30-40 million more than anyone else for Price, which would seem to make them the favorites to sign him. However, Rosenthal noted:
"The Red Sox might be the toughest sell for Price, given the complexities of his past relationships with their fan base and biggest star, David Ortiz."
Gammons countered this assertion when he wrote:
"Some feel he is uneasy about Boston, but David is so sophisticated, so talented and so intelligent he will make the best of any situation."
Honestly, this all feels like early offseason speculation, which may or may not have any significance. In terms of payroll, the Red Sox have $153 million committed to next season, and they are projected to spend another $9 million on arbitration salaries. They have the payroll space to sign Price, but they may have to make a few moves or defer salary in order to avoid paying the luxury tax, depending on how much money they spend on other players this offseason.
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It seems evident that the Cardinals will face some stiff competition this offseason in their efforts to sign David Price. The Cardinals may be an appealing destination for Price, given their good reputation and the fact that St. Louis is relatively close to Price's home in Nashville. Still, the Cardinals will likely have to pay top dollar for Price, just like any other team looking to sign him. I find it hard to see the Cardinals as the favorites to sign Price, especially if the Red Sox are truly willing to offer $30 million more than any other team. However, in his article, Gammons noted:
"One GM speculated that the Cardinals could pass on Jason Heyward, sign Price and bridge to their next generation of big-time young pitchers, including the suspended Alex Reyes, who one baseball man calls "the best pitching prospect I've seen in a year."
At least one person in the industry believes that the Cardinals have a good chance of signing Price, although it may prevent them from bringing back Jason Heyward. I, for one, still believe that Jason Heyward should be the Cardinals' highest priority, although David Price would certainly be a good consolation prize if the Cardinals are unable to come to an agreement with Heyward.
In any case, the Cardinals have been tied to some of the top free agents in baseball so far this offseason, and it is not hard to see why they find David Price so appealing. With the Winter Meetings still over a week away, it seems likely that the rumors are just getting started.