CINCINNATI — Let the David Price madness begin.
There’s been so much speculation about Price being right for the Cubs, from Theo Epstein’s front office hiring his old Vanderbilt University pitching coach (Derek Johnson) to be their minor-league pitching coordinator, to luring his beloved manager (Joe Maddon) away from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Price certainly made it sound like the Cubs would be an attractive — if not ideal — destination in free agency when he spoke at length with a group of Chicago reporters last month inside Comerica Park’s home clubhouse.
Within nine hours on Monday, you had the bromance between Price and Jake Arrieta on Twitter, followed by a buzzworthy USA Today report that the Detroit Tigers will “surrender” and become sellers by the July 31 trade deadline.
“That’s news to me,” Arrieta said before Tuesday’s 5-4, 13-inning win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. “But we all know what the situation is. Like (Johnny) Cueto here is a looming free agent, as well as a number of other guys. There’s talk of us — as well as other teams — looking for a top-of-the-rotation guy. But that’s just what nearing the trade deadline brings.”
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Arrieta stood at his locker and explained the Price connection. They had played together on Team USA and competed against each other in the American League East. Coming out of Texas Christian University, Arrieta had admired Price and viewed him as the standard, trying to measure himself against the best. The Rays drafted Price No. 1 overall in 2007, the same year Arrieta dropped to the Baltimore Orioles in the fifth round.
“I’ve known Price for a long time,” Arrieta said. “We’ve kind of kept close tabs on each other over the years. That’s really it, though.”
Fast forward to Monday’s Twitter exchange, which started with Jon Lester giving a shout-out to Arrieta and a fan suggesting Price would make an excellent No. 3 starter for the Cubs.
Arrieta responded by posting a crying-with-laughter emoji: “Price a #3?”
Price retweeted that and wrote: “Jake I always loved you...but that right there makes me love u more!!”
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A lot of teams love Price, which means the Tigers could create a bidding war, possibly prevent a franchise crash and restock the farm system after winning four straight division titles but no World Series championship. Detroit also began the day at 46-46, only four games out of a wild-card spot.
It’s doubtful the Cubs would have the stomach to deal elite prospects for basically a two-month rental and maybe one playoff game on the road, knowing their best years should still be ahead of them.
It’s also unclear if the Cubs even have that close-to-impact headliner, since Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber have graduated to the big leagues and are off the table.
That’s not even getting into all the questions about the organization’s financial flexibility, from this year’s deadline to how a $200 million megadeal would fit in the future.
“I think what we have here is good enough to make a push in the playoffs,” Arrieta said. “We’ve shown we can win one-run games. At this stage of the season, we can’t blow leads. That’s really it. Obviously, a top-of-the-rotation guy’s going to help anybody.
“(But) we’re set up pretty well. We just need to continue what we’re doing on the mound. We’re playing better defense. We just got to score a few runs a game. We don’t really need much. Really, with the guys we got, we don’t need much from the offensive side.”
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Price appreciated Maddon’s gimmicks with the Rays, playing dress-up on road trips and bringing zoo animals into the clubhouse. Tampa Bay went to the 2008 World Series, and four years later Price won the Cy Young Award while pitching for Maddon.
But Price didn’t want to get into the idea of reuniting with Maddon when asked about free agency again during last week’s All-Star festivities in Cincinnati.
“I’m not gonna answer those questions,” Price said. “You guys are going to get me in trouble, man. I love being a Tiger. I have fun at the field every single day. Wherever I’m playing baseball next year, it’s not going to be because of a manager. I promise you that. It’s not gonna be the reason why.”
If Price gets traded, he can’t be tagged with a qualifying offer and the attached draft-pick compensation. Lester getting traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Oakland A’s at last year’s deadline certainly opened his eyes to the world outside Fenway Park.
“That was probably my biggest worry last year,” Price said. “Whenever I was with Tampa and the trade deadline was approaching, I was like: I don’t know if I can pitch for another team. I don’t know if I can go play for another team or be close to or as comfortable as I was in Tampa.
“Being traded to Detroit last year, and going through that process, and more importantly coming back this year, and going to spring training, and just being with the guys for a full year, it makes me feel like I can do this anywhere. I guess it’s just kind of a sigh of relief.”