The Rays have made it clear that they don't have to trade Price this offseason, and despite saying in October that he thought he would be dealt, Price said Thursday he's starting to believe he'll stay put.
"Hopefully I can stay here for a while. My mindset hasn't changed. I wanted to stay here. Everybody knew that," Price said during a conference call with reporters. "I think it's kind of worked out well for me to come back. That's what's going on right now. Hopefully not too much changes."
Of course, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner is well aware that something could change before Spring Training begins. Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka will sign with someone, leaving the other teams in pursuit of the ace empty-handed. They could choose to go after Price via trade instead. Or a club could simply blow away the Rays with a great offer.
But the once-rampant speculation regarding Price's 2014 home has settled down lately, leading many to believe that he will be starting on Opening Day at Tropicana Field. Price, who has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining before he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season, even admitted that "the chances [of staying with Tampa Bay for 2014] continue to get greater, I guess, as the days go by."
Price added that he'd start to feel more comfortable around Feb. 1, basically a week after the posting process for Tanaka concludes. Price said he'd feel even better if he makes it to Spring Training with the Rays, because being traded during camp "would kind of put a bad taste in everybody's mouth, especially with the guys on the team.
"I have a close relationship with all those guys," Price said. "If everybody thought that we were moving forward as a team then I get traded in Spring Training, I don't think anybody would be too happy about it."
Including Price's contract, the Rays' payroll is expected to be the highest figure in club history, even greater than the $72 million mark in 2010. Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has called it an unsustainable figure, but the front office is willing to pay it because they believe Tampa Bay has a "really good chance to be great" in 2014. Price has drawn the same conclusion from looking at the Rays' roster.
"On paper right now, I feel like we have a very good team. Hopefully we can make some kind of run and then let something happen," Price said. "If we can have this team that we have right now on paper and everybody stay healthy and produce the type of team that we can all produce, I think we can do something special.
"I want to be a part of it. I think we're going to have a really good season this year. I would like to see what would happen, and hopefully I'm there for the duration of it."
Price signed for $10.1125 million in 2013, at the time a record-high salary for a pitcher in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Tampa Bay is still on the hook for $4 million of that salary this year, as it was deferred until 2014.
The left-handed ace struggled early on last season, spent 44 games on the disabled list with a left triceps strain and returned to his Cy Young Award form down the stretch, going 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 18 starts, with 102 strikeouts and only 13 walks.
During that time, Price led the Majors in innings pitched, complete games (four) and fewest pitchers per inning (13.8). Overall, he finished the season 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA in 27 starts. Price led the AL with a 5.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio and ranked fourth all-time among AL left-handers in the category.
Price, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is the Rays' all-time leader in ERA (3.19) and winning percentage (.645), and he ranks second behind James Shields in wins (71), games started (147), innings pitched (973) and complete games (eight).
First baseman Carlos Pena's $10.25 million salary in 2010 was previously the highest in club history. Tampa Bay also paid Carl Crawford $10 million that season. To put Price's salary in perspective, consider that third baseman Evan Longoria won't make more than $14 million until 2019 under his team-friendly long-term extension.
More than anything, Price said he's just happy to have the negotiations over with and avoid a hearing.
"I'm defintely happy to have it out of the way. You don't have to worry about going to a hearing, and that can be during Spring Training, and that's not something that you want to have to do," Price said. "So I'm happy to have that done. ... It's a good time, and I'm happy."
The Rays have six remaining arbitration-eligible players: right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, lefties Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos, outfielder Matt Joyce, utility man Sean Rodriguez and catcher Jose Lobaton.
Clubs have until 1 p.m. ET on Friday to reach an agreement on a 2014 contract with arbitration-eligible players. If no agreement is reached, the two sides will exchange figures and head to arbitration. The Rays have never lost an arbitration case, going 6-0 overall and 5-0 under Friedman.