Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
With trade rumors swirling around like tornado clouds, the future of Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price has never been more uncertain. But the 28-year-old is still sure about one thing.
"I've never been as good as I am right now, period," said Price after Wednesday's victory over Pittsburgh. "This is the best pitcher I've ever been. I feel in complete control on the mound at all times."
The situation Price finds himself in right now isn't all that uncommon. Every year we see dozens of players come and go at the trade deadline. But that's not what interests us. The interesting part, at least for fantasy owners, is what happens in the days and weeks leading up to the big trade.
Price is playing some of the best baseball of his career right now (or at least he thinks he is) but are all players with trade targets on their back this fortunate? Let's wind back the clock a year to find out.
The two biggest trade dominoes we saw fall in 2013 were Jake Peavy and Bud Norris. Neither player impressed in the weeks leading up to the deadline. Norris went 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA over his final five starts as a Houston Astro while Peavy missed most of July with a fractured rib. When Peavy did come back, he won both starts, but his ERA in those games was only 4.15. The Red Sox traded for him anyway, sending shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Tigers as part of a three-team swap.
Last year's trade deadline was relatively quiet but in 2012 the deadline was madness. Ryan Dempster, Zack Greinke, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino were all shipped to different teams on or before July 31. Victorino seemed to take it in stride, hitting .385 over his final 14 games for Philadelphia. He was especially dominant during his last five, sending the Phils off with eight hits in his final 19 at bats (.421 AVG).
Two thirds of the Phillies' starting outfield went out the door when Pence was traded to San Francisco an hour after Victorino was dealt to Los Angeles. Unlike Victorino, Pence struggled mightily before the trade, hitting just .200 over his last ten games (8-for-40). For Pence, it was a repeat of 2011 when he went 8-for-40 in his last 12 games before being shipped to Philadelphia.
When talking about Price, it's important to think about what it means to be a trade candidate. There are lots of variables to consider. If Price wants out of Tampa (which seems likely given the Rays' pitiful 32-48 record), he could be auditioning for his next team. In theory that would motivate him to pitch well, though pitching too well might convince Tampa Bay to hold onto him. And pitching poorly would scare away potential suitors. It really is a slippery slope.
The possibility of changing addresses can also cause anxiety, leading to a lack of focus. Zack Greinke's pre-deadline swoon in 2012 is a perfect example of this.
With trade rumors spinning, the usually mild-mannered Greinke was tossed after throwing just four pitches July 7 in a start against Houston. His next three starts weren't much better, resulting in a 5.40 ERA over 15 innings. After his fate was decided, Greinke settled down and went 6-2 the rest of the way for his new team, the Los Angeles Angels.
Similarly, Dempster had been in cruise control for most of the year but as the trade deadline approached in 2012, he began to stumble. Maybe he didn't want to move his family out of Chicago or perhaps he was insulted the Cubs were so eager to trade him. But whatever it was, he wasn't the same pitcher in his last two starts (0-2, 5.25 ERA, 11 H, 2 BB in 12 innings).
The trade deadline is a nerve-wracking time and Price wouldn't be the first player to cave under pressure. And he also wouldn't be the first to use it as a chip on his shoulder. That's exactly what Carlos Beltran did when the Mets started fielding offers for him in 2011. Instead of rolling over, Beltran proved his worth by hitting .320 in his last eight games before getting traded to San Francisco.
Still, the data I've compiled is incomplete because the names I've discussed are only players who were actually traded. Often times teams back out at the last second, which doesn't erase the month of uneasiness players live through before the deadline.
So where does that leave us? Well for Price, we know this isn't about staying or going. It's about pitching for a new contract next season. Of course he's going to say he's the best that he's ever been. That's PR 101.
The forecast? I'm thinking four more weeks of tornado clouds.
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