Soon after Wade Davis signed his four-year extension worth $12.6 million (with the potential to be seven-years, $36.1 million) the attention shifted to David Price. The pre-arbitration eligible ace of the Tampa Bay Rays has five years of team control left; however, signing him to a long-term deal would provide the team with cost certainty and perhaps a year or two of free agency. Considering his projected production over the next few years, the team would likely save money on the back-end of the deal by giving Price, 25, a significant guarantee on the front side.
Unlike the team-friendly deals given to Wade Davis and James Shields, a Price extension would require a significant investment up front. As a top overall pick, Price signed a major-league contract upon being drafted. With that deal in place, he is already making more than the league minimum ($1.25 million) in 2011. He also has financial security from his $5.6 million signing bonus.
Recently, Price said he would be willing to talk extension; however nailing down a fair contract for both sides is a tough task. Tim Dierkes speculated that a seven-year, $95 million deal (4yr/$30 million guarantee with three-club options for $20 million apiece) could work, but that seems too rich for the Rays’ blood. On the other hand, maybe we could look to the newly signed Clay Buchholz as a blueprint.
On Sunday, the Boston Red Sox signed Buchholz, 26, to a four-year deal worth just under $30 million ($29.45 million) with two-club options worth a reported $26.5 million. All totaled, the deal could be worth six years for around $56 million. On the surface that may seem a bit high for Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, when you consider the fact that Price could make about half of that in arbitration, it might be worth locking up some of his free agent years on the back end.
Looking at the statistical comparison, Price and Buchholz share similarities. Since 2008, Price has pitched in 62 games, throwing 364 innings with a pitching slash line (ERA/FIP/xFIP) of 3.36/3.80/4.05. Buchholz has appeared in 66 games, accumulating a slash line of 3.77/4.24/4.11 in 374 innings.
Even though their experience in terms of games and innings pitched is nearly equal, there are differences in other areas. As you can see, Price holds the statistical advantage across the slash lines. He also has a slight edge in wins above replacement level according to fangraphs (6.4 WAR compared to Buchholz 6.2 WAR). In addition to stats, Price has achieved national notoriety – finishing second in the 2010 American League Cy Young vote and starting the All-Star game for the AL.
There is also a discrepancy in service time and age. Both born in August, Buchholz arrived into the world a year before Price. Though they share an almost equal amount of playing experience, Buchholz has earned more service time after pitching nearly a full season in 2008 and a handful of games in 2007. Because of this, he is arbitration eligible after the 2011 season while Price will have to wait until after 2012.
Considering Price’s advantage in prestige, stats, and age, one would guess Tampa Bay would have to exceed the potential six-year, $56 million Buchholz could make. On the other hand, he is a year behind the free agent process which gives a little leverage to the team. The Rays could do a similar deal now and buy out a year less of free agency, one up the Red Sox and offer a seventh year, or wait until next year and get the same advantage Boston is receiving.
Being that Price is five years away from free agency, a six-year deal does not seem to make much sense for the team. With five of those years guaranteed with an extension, the risk would fall heavily on the team at the reward of one year of free agency. A seven-year commitment (or a six-year deal next season) would give the team a little more incentive to front some guaranteed millions. But how much will satisfy Price?
With a 19-win season, an All-Star start, and a top-2 finish in the Cy Young vote, Price already has a very compelling case – even without the next two seasons – to present before the panel an arbiters. This could create some severe cost uncertainly for a team that needs all the help it can get. The following is complete speculation and unscientific in nature, but perhaps guaranteeing upwards of $45 million over the next five seasons with the potential for an additional $25-30 million over two option years could be a starting point that satisfies both parties involved.