Price's value might never get any higher, and the Rays know it. In his prime at 28 and under club control for two more seasons, Price stands tall among the elite, a "rare person and a rare pitcher" in the view of Maddon. Even though he has grown accustomed to bidding farewell to stars, the Renaissance manager said Monday it was "almost ... devastating" to ponder losing his ace.
Maddon knows Price is capable of fronting a pitching staff all the way through October. That is why Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations, is so popular among his peers as Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings heat up.
The bidders are jockeying for position, poised to take their best shots. The cost will be high, and not everyone has what the Rays will want in return. They are old hands at this game, reeling in a collection of youthful merchandise in exchange for Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and James Shields, Price's former rotation stablemates.
The Mariners, having wrapped their arms around Robinson Cano, would have an unmatched tandem linking Price with Felix Hernandez. But Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Monday he did not intend to trade Taijuan Walker, the amazingly athletic 21-year-old right-hander who could emerge as the Mike Trout of the pitching set.
There would be serious long-term risk involved in swapping six contract years of Walker for two guaranteed seasons of Price, who figures to command about $30 million in 2014 and 2015.
The Dodgers, the D-backs and the Rangers also are believed to be in the Price hunt on some level.
The Dodgers' top three prospects, according to MLB.com, are center fielder Joc Pederson, third baseman Corey Seager and right-hander Zach Lee. If the Rays like them as much as the Dodgers do, there could be a fit. Should Tampa Bay insist on a proven commodity to slide into the rotation and ask for Hyun-Jin Ryu along with a few prospects, perhaps the Dodgers would find it irresistible.
Clayton Kershaw, Price and Zack Greinke could be the new version of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
The Dodgers would not necessarily look at Price as a two-year addition. When they want to keep a player, you have to like their chances.
Texas and Arizona have the affordable resources to get it done, both in arms and position players.
The Rangers moved Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder in part to create a spot for Jurickson Profar, but he could be the guy to turn the Rays' heads. Lefty Martin Perez and Mitch Moreland could fit in a Price deal, with Tampa Bay possibly including Ben Zobrist to fill the void at second in Texas.
Arizona has young southpaw Tyler Skaggs to offer along with athletic shortstop Didi Gregorius and a center fielder in A.J. Pollock or Adam Eaton.
If there is a sleeper in the Price sweepstakes, how can you overlook the Angels with their recent history of coming out of nowhere to shock the baseball world with big-name acquisitions?
Here is a team that could give the Rays a proven, affordable power source in Mark Trumbo as part of a package for the arm that could make them a threat to reclaim the American League West -- a division they dominated before the rise of the Rangers and the Athletics.
When the Angels were claiming division titles in 2007, '08 and '09, their rotation was the envy of their AL West rivals. It has grown thin behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, giving rise to speculation that Garza, a free agent, is on their radar.
Garza is good. Price is great, a difference-maker.
Fully aware of the scarcity of sluggers Trumbo's age (28 in January) with 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons on their resumes, the Angels are reluctant to unload the hometown star. But the anticipated revivals of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, joining peerless Trout, would leave the offense in good hands.
Trumbo, solid defensively at first base with the ability to play an outfield corner, would fit in beautifully in Maddon's attack between Evan Longoria and Wil Myers. That heart of the order would suddenly rival any to be found in the always-loaded AL East. The Angels could kick in another position prospect and a reliever to make it happen.
Maddon has deep roots in the Angels' organization and close ties with their manager, Mike Scioscia. These clubs have done business before. In 2009, the Angels sent three young players to Tampa Bay at midseason with the thought Kazmir could help drive them to the Promised Land.
That did not happen. Kazmir, revitalized in Cleveland over the summer and now in Oakland with a two-year deal, flamed out in Anaheim. But that does not mean Price would not be right for the Angels.
As Maddon, the wordsmith, pointed out, this is one rare athlete.