Tampa Bay executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has built a consistent contender despite significant financial limitations and finds himself sorting through how to construct a playoff team without Price. He's done a lot of things in his career, but never that particular trick.
At 22, Price pitched out of the bullpen for Joe Maddon's 2008 team that went to the World Series. He's been the ace on teams that qualified for the playoffs in three of the past four years, and may never have distinguished himself more than he did in the most recent of his 147 regular-season starts.
The 2013 Rays refused to fade away in September, as they seemed destined to, and found themselves tied with the Rangers for the American League's second Wild Card spot after 162 games. Price used his experience, as much as his left arm, to win Game 163.
He had seen the Rangers force the action in previous playoff games -- Game 5 of the 2010 Division Series, in particular -- and this time found a huge counterattack. His pickoffs of Elvis Andrus in the first inning and Ian Kinsler in the third were pivotal moments in a 5-2 win for Maddon's Rays, who would finally be put away by the Red Sox in the Division Series.
Including the Rangers' ALDS wins in 2010 and '11, the one-game tiebreaker for the Wild Card marked the third time in four seasons that one of those two teams eliminated the other. Should the rivalry be renewed in 2014, it's more likely that Price will be pitching for the Rangers than the Rays.
Had Friedman figured out a way to view Price as a long-term asset -- not the same kind of commodity as Matt Garza and James Shields were when they got to this point, two years away from free agency -- we'd know it by now. Price's prediction of a trade continues to ring throughout baseball, and the Rangers appear slight favorites over the Dodgers to land his services.
Here's a look at how interested teams line up:
Rangers: While Maddon loved what he got from Yunel Escobar last season, the Rays would jump if the Rangers offered shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar. That could happen if Texas jumped into bidding for Robinson Cano, but there are other ways for Texas to construct a strong offer for Price.
The addition of ol' No. 84, Prince Fielder, makes 28-year-old first baseman Mitch Moreland available, even though Texas GM Jon Daniels talks about using him as a designated hitter and even a left fielder. Moreland intrigues the Rays, as some see him as a two-way player who would thrive with a clear place in the lineup -- somewhat like Chris Davis did after moving to Baltimore. Left-hander Martin Perez, just signed to a four-year, $12.5 million deal, could be part of the trade, as the Rangers expect Matt Harrison to be healthy to start 2014 and Colby Lewis was just re-signed to a Minor League contract.
Dodgers: Imagine Price working alongside Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Some rotation, huh? But do the Dodgers have enough to do a Price trade?
They don't have as many parts that fit as do the Rangers, but they seem to have almost unlimited financial resources -- and that makes them an obvious partner. Could the Dodgers essentially pay the $82.5 million left on Carl Crawford's contract and send him back to the Rays? Could they find a way to build a deal around the fragile Matt Kemp, who is owed $128 million over the next six years? The Dodgers have an abundance of pitching prospects (Zach Lee, Chris Reed, Julio Urias and Ross Stripling), all of whom could be the next Chris Archer, if not Price.
Nationals: Don't rule out these guys making a major move after missing the playoffs this year. The highly regarded Anthony Rendon is the kind of guy that the Rays covet -- a polished hitter with perennial All-Star upside who should fit the budget nicely for at least four seasons. There isn't a natural fit on a team that has Ben Zobrist at second and Evan Longoria at third, but nobody figures out things better than Maddon -- plus, Zobrist's versatility is a huge help.
The costs would be staggering, but how good would the Nationals be if they had Cano at second base and Price working alongside Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez in the rotation?
D-backs: Arizona isn't going to trade Archie Bradley, whom the Rays would probably insist on. But it could package some other pitching prospects (Tyler Skaggs, David Holmberg, Zeke Spruill or Andrew Chafin) along with young talents like outfielder Adam Eaton or shortstop Didi Gregorius (who will soon be displaced by Pacific Coast League MVP Chris Owings ) and get Friedman's attention.
Yankees: No team intent on contending has more of a need for Price, as New York's rotation currently lacks both quality and quantity behind CC Sabathia. But the Rays probably wouldn't move their ace to a division rival even if the Yankees were loaded with attractive prospects, and they're not. This is not happening.