David Price and Jeff Samardzija have been mentioned in trade rumors throughout the offseason, and now that Masahiro Tanaka has signed with the New York Yankees, those markets might open up again. After missing out on Tanaka, the Mariners will certainly be in the running for a starting pitcher to add to a rotation that currently features Erasmo Ramirez as the No. 3 starter.
Price and Samardzija are similarly situated, as both have two years of team control remaining before they hit free agency. Right now, Price is by far the most expensive pitcher, as he is under contract for $14 million for 2014, and will likely command near $20 million in arbitration in 2015. An extension for Price, which he was reportedly unwilling to sign with Seattle, would likely cost in the neighborhood of $25 million per year. Samardzija looks to cost about $15 million over his last two years of arbitration, and while he wouldn’t be as expensive to extend, he won’t be cheap either.
Here’s a look at what a reasonable trade for either pitcher would look like for the Mariners. Hint: there’s likely a sizable gap between that and the asking price for Price or Samardzija.
Even at $35 million for the next two years, Price would be a bargain. The 28 year-old lefthander has been worth 13.4 fWAR over the last three years, 8th most among starting pitchers, and he’s averaged more than 30 starts a year in that time frame. Steamer and ZiPS project more of the same from the big lefthander with each system expecting +4 fWAR. Of course, there are concerns regarding Price such as his diminishing fastball velocity, and the drop in his strikeout rate (though he offset that by cutting his walk rate), and the arm injury that sent him to the DL in 2013.
Based on projections, Price could provide approximately $20 million of surplus value over the next two seasons. From there, his value would likely drop off significantly. An extension would probably be at least as costly as that signed by Felix Hernandez, and Price is older and not quite as good. Assuming a decline of half a win per year for his age-30 season and beyond, and you get +15 fWAR over the life of a contract extension that keeps him around through his age-35 season.
While Nick Franklin has been connected to trade rumors involving Billy Butler, he’s more valuable than that. Projections for him have a pretty wide range. Steamer projects slightly below-average offense and second-base defense, and just 0.1 fWAR over 206 plate appearances for the soon-to-be 23 year-old infielder. ZiPS projects slightly above-average offense and serviceable defense at shortstop, which comes out to 3.2 fWAR over 593 plate appearances. It appears unlikely that he can handle shortstop, but it appears that he could handle his own if given a full season’s worth of playing time. A +1-2 win player with slight improvement over the next five seasons would bring plenty of surplus value.
James Paxton impressed in his late-season showcase for the Mariners, though both Steamer and ZiPS suggest he might need more minor-league seasoning. Still, lefties with mid 90′s heat aren’t too common, and if his knee is healed up, he may be able to sustain his control improvements and realize his No. 2 starter potential. There’s more of an injury risk with pitchers than position players, but even if he isn’t ready for a full season until 2015, he should provide solid surplus value. A trade centered around Franklin and Paxton would be a fair offering for Price. It’s certainly a lot more than the Detroit Tigers got in return for Doug Fister, who has been Price’s equal over the last three years.
However, the Rays will likely ask for more than that from the Mariners. Early this season they reportedly asked for Taijuan Walker plus other prospects. Now, considering that dealing Walker for Price would be an overpay, Walker and others would be even worse. Only 21, Walker could likely contribute at least +1-2 wins at the big league level this year, and has ace potential down the road with a little more consistency in his secondary stuff and improved control. Given Walker’s current value and +4-5 win potential, dealing him for Price would be nearly as poor a trade as the Wil Myers - James Shields trade last offseason.
Considering that the Diamondbacks may be willing to surrender Archie Bradley, a 21 year-old hurler who isn’t quite as far along in his development as Walker but has a very similar ceiling for Price, it appears very unlikely that the M’s can trade for him unless they get desperate or the Rays come way down on their reported asking price.
Reported asking prices for Samardzija have only been a shade lower than what the Rays want for Price. His ERA- of 103 over the last two years isn’t very exciting, but his peripherals and raw stuff are much more impressive. He sports an 89 xFIP- which looks like a much better indicator of his ability. Armed with a fastball that sits in the mid 90′s, only Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez have a higher average velocity. In addition to the fastball, he has a devastating splitter, a good slider, and mixes in a cutter. Samardzija is 29, but due to his football background, he’s thrown fewer innings than Price.
Talks with the Toronto Blue Jays supposedly revolved around pitching prospects Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. They don’t have the ceiling that Walker does. Baseball America ranked the two No. 98 and No. 35 in their 2013 rankings, respectively. However, the smallish Stroman has taken a big step forward after a dominant season in Double-A, and could be in the big leagues in 2014. Sanchez remains the top prospect in the Jays system.
Other than Walker, and the possible exception of D.J. Peterson, the Mariners don’t have prospects on the level of Sanchez and Stroman. I believe a team that is interested in Samardzija should be willing to pay at least as much as they would for Price, but a Paxton and Franklin combination is unlikely to get a deal done, even if the Mariners add in a lesser prospect. Including Mike Zunino as the headliner instead of Paxton or Franklin might make the Cubs willing to listen, but that starts becoming a bad deal for the Mariners.
A deal revolving around a package of low-level, high-ceiling prospects, would also make a fair trade for Price or Samardzija, but Victor Sanchez or Tyler Pike don’t carry the potential right now to make that trade. Unless the Cubs or Rays are willing to accept prospects that have less potential but are big-league ready or very close such as Paxton and Franklin, a trade for either of these pitchers would be a big overpay. ML-ready talent with +4 or even +5 win potential is too much to sacrifice for two years of a rental, even a good one.