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All eyes on Rays as Trade Deadline nears

Tampa Bay to decide whether to hold onto ace Price or to make deal

All eyes on Rays as Trade Deadline nears

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tampa Bay heads toward Thursday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline with one eye on the present and another on the future.

Thus, it's the conundrum the Rays face.

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In the present, David Price is the man. He's one of the best pitchers in baseball, a competitor, a good teammate and the leader of Tampa Bay's pitching staff.

Looking toward the future, Price is the chip that can be used to acquire younger players, who, ostensibly, can help the Rays contend in the coming years.

Currently, Tampa Bay is one of the hottest teams in baseball, and the club is perched to make a postseason run. Walking hand in hand with its recent success is an incredible body of work by Price, who believes he's pitching better than ever before in his career -- and that's a career that includes a 2012 American League Cy Young Award on his mantel.

Price's value may never be greater than today. So, can the Rays afford to hold onto their ace, at least until the end of the season? Or do they need to push the button to make a deal?

Thus, the question of whether Price will get traded continues to echo around Major League Baseball on a daily basis. And nobody but the guys behind closed doors in Tampa Bay's front office really knows what's going on, including Price's agent, Bo McKinnis.

"I really am [in the dark]," McKinnis said. "So many folks [in the media] have questioned David about it. And David doesn't have the information. He's not the one doing the trade. And likewise, in my chair, I have friends and relatives comment to me, 'I'll bet you're really busy with David's trade.' They totally miss the fact that legally, the Rays do not have to include us in the process."

Price will finish out this season making $14 million, and he will likely command through the arbitration process anywhere from $17 million to $22 million for his final contract before he can become a free agent (prior to the 2016 season). Given that situation, McKinnis could get involved in the event that an interested Price suitor wants to sign him to an extension before making the deal. Such a situation could be relevant this week, or it might come into play if Price remains with Tampa Bay until the end of the season.

McKinnis does have experience in such a negotiation for a big-name pitcher, when the team trading for the player wants to get an extension done prior to making the trade. R.A. Dickey is McKinnis' client, and they went through the process before a trade from the Mets to the Blue Jays after the 2012 season.

"R.A. and I knew what we wanted," McKinnis said. "R.A. was very confident about what he wanted. He had said from the beginning, 'My first choice is to stay with the Mets. If I can't do that, then I want to go to a club expected to win.' At that time, the Blue Jays looked like they were going to be the slam-dunk World Series club, coming off that Marlins trade, then doing this with R.A. He was most excited about that.

"In terms of comparing that to David, it certainly could play out that way with him if the Rays chose to give us permission to do [negotiate an extension prior to a trade getting done]. It would be a much more complex contract. R.A., at that time, was 38, and David is entering his prime-age years. So it certainly would be a lot more complex in that sense. It definitely could happen, depending on the club."

Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman have talked in the past about the perils of having a large percentage of the team's payroll being gobbled up by the contract of just one or two players. Given that line of thinking -- and the fact that Evan Longoria is basically tied up for life with his contract -- it's difficult to believe that Tampa Bay will keep Price. Whether a deal comes before the Trade Deadline or during the offseason remains to be seen.

If that is the case, which teams make the most sense? Many have speculated about where Price will be, but nobody really has a clue.

"Andrew and Stu definitely think differently than most folks in baseball," McKinnis said. "They could totally surprise us. We could end up on a team that hasn't even been speculated about."

And that includes teams within the Rays' division. Tampa Bay is forward-thinking enough to make such a deal happen if it makes sense.

"Whenever he pulls the trigger, no matter what team he makes the deal with, he has to ask the question: 'Does this make us a better team?'" McKinnis said. "And part of answering that, he has to analyze his opponents. So if David goes to the Yankees or Toronto, he gets X, Y and Z in return, 'Are we going to have a better chance of winning the East or not?' If the answer is yes, pull the trigger."

In the coming days, the conundrum will continue. And once the smoke clears, the Rays' intentions for the remainder of the season will become clearer, as will the future. Or will it?

One of the many opposing scouts visiting Tropicana Field to watch Tampa Bay's ace was asked, "Where's Price going?"

He smiled and replied: "To the Rays. They could do this again next year."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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