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In their 16 seasons as a franchise since 1998, the Tampa Bay Rays have only had six winning seasons. It just so happens that those six seasons have been the previous six years.

Coincidentally, in each of these six seasons, lefty pitcher David Price has been on the team. Granted, he only pitched in five regular-season games in 2008, but he was an integral piece in guiding that team to its first and only World Series appearance.

 



Photo by Keith Allision, used under creative commons license.

It’s no secret that Price is a franchise arm who has helped turned the Rays into a yearly contender after a decade of mediocre play. In his five full seasons, Price has been a three-time All-Star and was the hands-down AL Cy Young Award winner in 2012 after finishing 20-5 with a league-leading 2.56 ERA.

But now, the small-market Rays have a tough decision with Price scheduled to be a free agent after the 2015 season. Should they look to trade Price now when they can get back a maximum package of prospects or should they hold tight at least for this season?

Naturally, all 29 other MLB teams would be interested in a talent like Price -- at the right “price” that is. Only a few teams, however, would have the collection of top prospects to make a deal with the Rays.

The Rays have to realize what they’re up against. The New York Yankees are much improved and are looking to add Masahiro Tanaka, and the Boston Red Sox are coming off a World Series victory.

In order for the Rays to compete with these top teams in the AL East, they’ll need Price leading their very talented starting rotation. The team’s strength has been its pitching during its six consecutive winning seasons, and that’s not likely to change this year if Price is in the mix.

Basically, the Rays have this year as their window to make a deep postseason run. As the offseason continues, other teams seeking Price will likely decrease their trade packages, knowing that the Rays are really hamstrung.

We all know the Rays will not be able to lock up Price long-term, and the rest of the league knows that as well. At still only 28 years old, Price will likely command a seven- or eight-year deal in the neighborhood of $20-25 million per season. There’s no way the Rays would come up with that kind of money.

So whether it is this season or next offseason, expect Price to be on the move. The sooner the Rays trade him, the better the chance to get back a hefty package of prospects.

If the Rays pull off a deal this offseason, let’s say, the acquiring team would still have him under team control for two full seasons before negotiating a multi-year. However, any team that gives up a package of prospects would likely have the long-term offer for Price already agreed upon before the trade is completed.

God forbid Price has a bad year or gets hurt this year. The Rays would then have to be willing to accept less of package next offseason. And if no trade occurs before the start of the 2016 season, the Rays likely would have lost their chance to maximize Price’s trade potential.

There’s a difference between Price and Robinson Cano, who signed a 10-year, $240 million contract this offseason with the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees were legitimate players for Cano all along, so trading him would have been looked at as a sign of giving up. In fact, the Yankees had the highest offer on the table until the Mariners blew Cano away.

The Rays, however, are not players for Price long-term, so the team has to ensure that it at least gets something back via trade rather than have Price walk after his contract expires -- like what happened with Cano.

This is such a difficult decision for the Rays because Price puts fans in the stands at a ballpark that typically does not draw well. He simply makes this team a contender every year.

But if the Rays could have three or four immediate impact players back in a trade for Price right now as opposed to maybe only getting one or two prospects in a later trade, that’s something the team must strongly consider.