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For once, Rays right on money
The Rays will be able to put together a starting rotation that is largely homegrown.
By JOHN ROMANO
Published August 17, 2007
[Courtesy of the Tennessean]
Vanderbilt pitcher David Price, right, gets a hug from head coach Tim Corbin after joking around following a press conference at Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn.
ST. PETERSBURG - Perhaps they are angry in the commissioner's office. After all, the bonus given to Devil Rays draft pick David Price is about 55 percent higher than what Major League Baseball had recommended.
And maybe they are annoyed in Kansas City. The Royals came close to missing the deadline to sign the No. 2 pick in the draft, and had to increase their bonus offer because the going rate had just gone up.
Heck, they may even be peeved in the Devil Rays clubhouse, where a majority of players just got passed on the salary scale by a kid walking off a college campus.
No doubt about it, they all have a right to be mad.
Ain't it great?
It is a rare day when the Rays overwhelm anyone with their spending, so why not enjoy it. You could argue they had no choice but to get Price signed, but how long has it been since this club followed the crowd into fiscal irresponsibility?
No, this was a banner week for the Rays. Maybe the best week of the year. For, in one signed deal, the Rays spent at least $8.5-million to buy a good deal of faith and potentially a pocketful of victories.
Think of what the last few days have brought. On Monday, James Shields went six innings and gave up one run against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. On Tuesday, Scott Kazmir threw six innings of shutout ball against Boston. And on Wednesday, Price made you wonder whether he will fit in better before Kazmir or after Shields.
Just like that, it was possible to imagine the best rotation Tampa Bay has ever known. By 2009, Kazmir, Shields, Price, Jeff Niemann, Edwin Jackson and Mitch Talbot should all be under contract and will all be between 23 and 27. That does not even include current Double-A phenoms Wade Davis and Jacob McGee.
Naturally, the entire group will not make it. Two or three, and perhaps more, will disappear because of injury or ineffectiveness. Call it an addendum to Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
The point is the Rays are, finally, operating from strength in numbers. For the first time, they will be able to put together a starting rotation that is largely homegrown. And for an organization with limited resources, young pitching is a necessity.
"When you look out on the field, you can see a number of young, premium position players. We have some good young pitchers, but it certainly lags in comparison," said executive vice president Andrew Friedman. "David can get to the major leagues in a relatively short period of time and make an impact while we still have these young, premium position players."
Granted, there is no greater risk than overspending on pitching. The Rays signed six first-round draft picks between 1996-2005, tossing out $25.4-million in salary and bonuses. Thus far, the return is a 9-29 record.
Nothing is guaranteed with Price, but the potential for success is greater. He seems more grounded than Dewon Brazelton. His medical history is a lot more sound than Niemann's. He is more advanced than either Matt White or Bobby Seay were.
"Pitchers are more risky than position players," Friedman said. "All you can do is play the odds."
And, for the Rays, that meant spending more than they had anticipated. As with any negotiation, the Rays began with a low figure and Price's agent began with a high figure. You knew a compromise was hiding somewhere in between, and it was just a matter of whether it was closer to the high end or the low end.
Fortunately for Price, the Tigers handed Rick Porcello a $7.3-million deal earlier in the week. Porcello may be Price's equal in talent, but he is also a prep pitcher, making him more of a gamble. With Porcello, who fell to No. 27 in the draft because of signability issues, getting that type of money, the Rays were not going to be able to go hard line with Price.
It's been a while, but the Rays have overspent before. They gave too much money to White and Seay in 1996, they gave crazy money to Wilson Alvarez in 1998 and bid against themselves to acquire Greg Vaughn in 2000. These were all failed gambles, except in the case of Alvarez, which was just stupidity.
In this situation, the Rays had no choice. To sign a Johan Santana or a Barry Zito on the open market takes a $100-million commitment. Price may never approach their level of success, but he has a chance. And, at $8.5-million, it is certainly worth taking the risk.
"We looked at it as prudent spending," Friedman said. "We're not necessarily saying every player we draft in the future will be of that ilk, but we felt strongly enough about David and the type of impact he can have. Obviously, we felt it was worth it."
So maybe the Rays upset the carefully crafted slotting system for draft picks created by the commissioner's office.
At least, for a change, they exceeded expectations.