ST. PETERSBURG -- From a financial perspective, the Rays couldn't realistically afford David Price in 2015. From a baseball perspective, they couldn't realistically afford not to trade him now.
Consider this worst-case scenario, from the Rays' perspective: Attempting to once again defy the odds, they hold on to Price at the Trade Deadline. He somehow lowers his trade value the rest of the season, and they can't catch up to the American League East leaders. Maybe they grab the second AL Wild Card spot but lose the one-game playoff on the road.
All of a sudden, the Rays are heading into an offseason that could offer a number of attractive arms, trying to sell a $20 million pitcher who would dominate their payroll in a completely unsustainable manner if they kept him.
Now, with that in mind, take another look at Thursday's three-way deal. Tampa Bay parted with its 2012 Cy Young Award winner and acquired left-hander Drew Smyly, infielder Nick Franklin and shortstop prospect Willy Adames.
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman admitted Thursday it's a cliche, and it's one he repeats often: Tampa Bay has to make every decision with one eye on the present and another on the future.
"If not, you fall off the cliff. To fall off the cliff means five, six, seven, eight, nine 10 years of rebuilding," Friedman said at Tropicana Field. "For us to be able to sustain success over the long term, these are decisions that we have to make. The economics of the game, the gap is only widening."
The Rays talked a lot about their economic situation Thursday, but this isn't a trade the Rays had to make for the present. Team president Matt Silverman said it wasn't a "white flag" trade. It hurts their playoff chances, but doesn't eliminate them.
As good as Tampa Bay has been over the last month, going 19-6 from June 28 to July 30, the club gained only three games in the AL East standings. The Rays realized they had played themselves into a difficult spot.
"It's irrelevant if I feel like we're the best team in the American League East from here going forward. What has happened matters," Friedman said. "We have to factor all that in, and it's far from an easy decision."
Removing Price from the rotation and inserting Smyly looks like a significant downgrade, one that will make it even more unlikely the Rays continue their recent surge. But in reality, they've swapped a bona fide ace for a 25-year-old lefty who's proved to be a capable mid-rotation starter.
"Don't expect David-like performance," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But this guy also can be very, very good."
Thursday wasn't a fire sale. They didn't trade Ben Zobrist. Most of their roster is under team control for years to come. Catcher Ryan Hanigan and outfielders Wil Myers and David DeJesus will come off the disabled list at some point down the stretch, which should bode well for the Rays' record in August and September.
"I'm anticipating not skipping a beat. That's not denigrating David in any way," Maddon said. "I just think that we've come so far, and we have a bunch of professionals in our room, that I want to believe we're going to be able to continue this."
Smyly lacks the prospect ranking of someone like Jake Odorizzi, brought over in the James Shields trade to which this deal will inevitably be compared, but how many prospects pan out as well as Odorizzi has for the Rays this season? Friedman called the market for high-end prospects a "difficult environment," so what the Rays couldn't get in upside, they attempted to acquire in present and near-future value.
That's why it's important to remember this deal was made for the future. The Rays have liked Franklin for quite some time, hoping he can turn into the next Zobrist, given his power and defensive flexibility. They seem excited about Adames, 18, who's held his own as the youngest player in the Midwest League.
Hard as it may have been to admit, Price couldn't have been in the Rays' plans past 2015. It would have been a financial stretch to keep him next season. So they turned him into Smyly, under team control for four years, and Franklin, who they'll have for longer, and Adames, who could wind up being the best player of the bunch.
"We like the guys we got," Friedman said. "We feel like they fit us really well immediately."
It was a surprising move. It wasn't the trade Rays fans thought they wanted, even the subsection that came to terms with trading their beloved ace. But ultimately, given their financial reality and their spot in the standings, it was one the Rays felt they had to make.
They couldn't risk the worst-case scenario. They couldn't fall off that cliff.
"We have to do what we feel like is in the best interest of this organization, and even when it might not be popular in the moment," Friedman said. "For us, playing meaningful games in September for as many years as we possibly can is what we feel like gives us the best chance to win as many World Series championships as we can.
"That's what we're motivated by. It's what we are focused on. That doesn't change. It's just us appreciating who we are and what we need to do to have sustained success."