David Price is in the discussion for the best pitcher on the planet, at the very least. I think that if you were to poll players and managers and coaches, Justin Verlander would be the No. 1 pick, but Price probably would fall somewhere in the No. 2 to 4 range, mixed in with Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez.
Verlander is not available in a trade, and the Dodgers aren't going to deal Kershaw, and Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik jokes that he should put a message on his answering machine informing interested parties that he isn't trading Hernandez.
But Price is available right now, for the right offer, and some rival executives are convinced he's going to be traded by the Rays sometime in the next 13 months because the salary math is just about impossible for Tampa Bay. The Rays know it, and just about everybody else knows it, too.
If the industrywide forecasts are right and Price is dealt, it will be one of the most significant deals in Major League Baseball history. Not often do you see healthy 27-year-old left-handed Cy Young Award-winning pitchers get traded.
Price was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, but, unlike Evan Longoria, James Shields and Matt Moore, he didn't sign a team-friendly deal early in his career. He made his first significant dollars in his signing bonus and made $4.35 million last season. He's not close to working out a long-term deal, and, even if he wanted to stay with the Rays, it would be virtually impossible for them to afford him, as it was with Carl Crawford. Price is arbitration-eligible, and his salary might approach $10 million for 2013.
After the 2009 season, Cole Hamels was in a similar position to the one Price is in now, and his salaries for 2010, 2011 and 2012 were $6.65 million, $9.5 million and $15 million. Price is going to get a lot more than that in all likelihood. The Rays had a payroll of $63 million last season and have never gone higher than the $72 million range. They could make it work to keep Price through the next three seasons, but he would absorb an extraordinarily high percentage of their payroll -- and, at the back end of it, they wouldn't recoup anything close to his value when he walked away as a free agent.
So, in the Rays' never-ending fight to manage their payroll, they'll listen to offers for Price, and they are in position to demand an incredible package of prospects.
The Royals put Zack Greinke in the trade market when he was still two years from free agency, and Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin walked down to the suite of Royals GM Dayton Moore at the winter meetings and offered shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain -- for starters. The deal wound up being much bigger than that, with Melvin working under this presumption: It was going to cost a lot. He wanted Greinke to headline his rotation, and he knew it was going to hurt to make the deal.
Price doesn't have the historical baggage Greinke did at that time, and he seems to be blossoming right now -- and the sooner some team trades for him, the more likely it would be for that team to be able to sign Price to a long-term deal. The closer he gets to free agency, the more likely it would be that he would go out on the open market. The sooner a team trades for him, the more of its pennant races he can affect.
Yes, it would cost a lot to deal for Price, but he is a difference-making pitcher.
If the Rangers ever got involved in Price trade talks, they would have to include Jurickson Profar, presumably; the Red Sox would have to deal rising shortstop Xander Bogaerts and others. The Dodgers, who are early in the process of rebuilding their farm system, probably don't have the kind of prospects needed to trade for Price. The Orioles would have to include Dylan Bundy, in all likelihood.
Somebody will step up, at some point. Price is almost certain to be dealt, and it's only a matter of when -- whether it be this winter, this coming summer or next winter.
• This year's Hall of Fame class is filled with candidates whose statistics make them worthy for consideration, from Barry Bonds to Jack Morris. But, as I wrote Sunday, the whole PED question looms over Bonds, Roger Clemens and others, and if a poll by The Associated Press applies to the entire voting body of writers -- and I think it does -- no Hall passes are expected for Bonds, Clemens or Sammy Sosa.
That means that, in all likelihood, the candidacies of Clemens, Bonds, Sosa and others players hurt by suspected or proven links to PEDs will carry over to next year's ballot because of the split in the voting among the writers -- and the players who merit serious consideration will be stacked up even deeper, like planes on a runway.
Remember: You can vote for only 10 candidates per year.
This eventually is going to be a serious problem, especially for candidates who don't have overwhelming statistical résumés and are regarded as fringy by some voters, including players such as Jack Morris, Dale Murphy and Curt Schilling.
I'll show you what I mean.
I haven't formally sat down and voted this year, but, on my ballot, I probably will fill all 10 spots on my ballot and vote for Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Jack Morris, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. To me, those are the best candidates, based on their career production. No Murphy, no Alan Trammell, no Schilling. Not because they're not worthy but because there isn't room on my ballot.
Now, I'm in the clear minority of voters who are casting ballots for the perceived steroid users -- but there's a pretty sizable minority, of anywhere from 20 to 45 percent -- who will vote along the lines I am.
The 45 to 60 percent of the voters who have made it clear they won't vote for any perceived users will submit very different ballots, maybe with Raines, Morris, etc. But the lack of consensus on how to deal with the steroid candidates means that, year after year, it will get increasingly difficult for players to get the 75 percent needed to gain induction.
Next year, these other candidates get thrown into the mix: Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds. Then, in December 2014, the ballots will include Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield and John Smoltz.
I'll continue to vote for Bonds, Clemens et al. when they're on the ballot because I think they were the best players up for election, and I suspect a number of other writers will, too. But, as the perceived steroid players get backed up and returned to the ballot year after year, the needed room for other worthy candidates will disappear.
You can argue with my stance, or with that of the writers who will vote against the perceived steroid guys. But it's inarguable that there is a looming challenge to the mechanics of the Hall of Fame voting.
• Teams have already shown interest in Scott Kazmir, and that probably will be heightened by his strong outing Friday night.
• The Mets increased their offer to R.A. Dickey, but it's unclear whether it's close enough to what Dickey seeks in a two-year deal. The Mets were stunned by Andy Pettitte's one-year, $12 million deal, coming off a year in which he made 12 starts -- and, in a strange way, Pettitte is a comparable for Dickey because of his age. If Pettitte is getting $12 million now, what is Dickey's market value after a season in which he won the Cy Young Award?
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Braves traded Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden, and let Jair Jurrjens go, as David O'Brien writes. Most of the evaluators I spoke with about this deal thought Atlanta got the better end of it because of the potential upside with Walden. If the Braves can somehow get his delivery to be more consistent and improve his command, they will have an unbelievable collection of power arms in the last three innings, with Craig Kimbrel closing (96.8 mph average fastball, according to FanGraphs) and Jonny Venters (93.7), Eric O'Flaherty (90.9) and Walden (96.3) setting up. As written within the O'Brien piece, Randall Delgado will compete with Julio Teheran for the final spot in the rotation.
A lot of evaluators don't think Hanson will get better -- because of his problematic mechanics and the health of his arm -- but they liked the Angels' acquisition of him for the back end of their rotation because they need about three to four starters.
2. The Astros got a pitcher with Texas roots, as Brian Smith writes.
5. The Athletics acquired a reliever.
6. The Cubs cut some guys.
7. The White Sox cut a pitcher who threw a perfect game this past spring, as Mark Gonzalez writes.
9. The Twins outrighted one of their pitchers.
13. The Nationals have a whole lot of options now, writes Thomas Boswell.
14. Washington cut some guys.
16. The Phillies cut Nate Schierholtz. He could make a lot of sense for the Yankees as a low-risk, high-reward investment -- a left-handed hitter who plays good defense and might fit their park, and if he figures it out, he seems capable of doing more than he has done so far.
17. The Red Sox cut some guys, as Peter Abraham writes.
22. The Red Sox hired an assistant hitting coach.
23. The Dodgers are still talking about their TV contract.
24. The Mariners are really hard to read as the winter meetings begin. I've been told by a number of agents: It's clear that Seattle has money to spend ... but the Mariners are not a desired destination right now for the better free agents. So they'll probably have to overpay to get the veterans they can sign. I still wonder whether, at the end of the process, the Mariners are going to be the team that pays Josh Hamilton or Michael Bourn.
• A Cardinals prospect is heating up in winter ball.
• Nearly one in 10 major leaguers gets an ADD exemption.
And today will be better than yesterday.