|'If you can ever be in any conversation with Justin Verlander's name in it, you're in a good one.' (Getty Images)|
The Cy Young went to David Price, but it was very close.
The title of best pitcher in baseball? That one stays with Justin Verlander.
But Price has put himself in the conversation.
"If you can ever be in any conversation with Justin Verlander's name in it, you're in a good one," Price said on a Wednesday night conference call.
He's in it now, because over the course of the 2012 season he was a touch more consistent than Verlander, a touch better. The vote for the American League Cy Young was the closest in 43 years, with Price finishing one first-place vote and four overall points ahead.
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Scouts will tell you that Verlander has a small but clear overall edge in stuff, across the board. His fastball is better, his curveball is better, his changeup is better. Even his move to first is better.
But those same scouts will tell you that just like Verlander, Price qualifies as that rare breed known as a true No. 1 starter.
They'll also tell you that if either of these guys ever gets to the open market, we could see the biggest contract any pitcher has ever signed.
Not just $20 million a year.
"A lot more than that," as one National League executive said this week, when the subject was Price's future.
And this is where the Verlander and Price stories separate.
The Tigers are on record as saying they want to do all they can to ensure Verlander never pitches for anyone else. The Rays could never hope to say the same about Price.
So this winter, when you've got to believe the Tigers will make every effort to extend Verlander's contract (which currently runs through 2014), you've also got to believe that the Rays at least discuss internally the pros and cons of trading Price (who they control through 2015).
Pros: With three years of arbitration-control left, Price would have huge value if they traded him. You could argue that his value is at a peak now, coming off a Cy Young season and with three years of control remaining. They could ask for a three- or four-player package that could address almost all of their needs (a shortstop, a catcher, a big hitter at first base or in the outfield, and more young pitching).
Cons: The Rays are trying to win it all. You win with big pitching. Price is one of the biggest of the big pitchers, and they can keep him for three more tries at winning before they'd lose him to free agency.
"I feel like if we really want to have a chance to compete in the American League East, starting pitching is something we need to have," Price said.
He obviously loves pitching for the Rays, the only team he has ever played for. He said it would be "awesome" if he could spend his whole career with Tampa Bay.
"But if it doesn't happen, I understand," he said. "It is a business."
The Rays have suggested to teams that they don't want to trade either Price or James Shields. They've suggested that they'd rather deal Wade Davis, or Jeremy Hellickson, or perhaps even Matt Moore.
But none of those pitchers -- not even Moore -- has the value that Price does now.
So even if the Rays don't intend to trade Price, you'd better believe they've thought about what they could get if they did trade him.
Some Rays people have even identified the Rangers as the team that could provide them with the biggest return in the areas they need most. What if the Rangers, always in search of a true No. 1 starter, offered young shortstop Jurickson Profar, a young pitcher like Martin Perez and an outfielder (perhaps David Murphy)?
I don't know that the Rangers would do it. I do know that when they said they wouldn't trade either Profar or Elvis Andrus for Justin Upton, Rangers people suggested that they could be more open to moving a shortstop if a true No. 1 starter was the prize they got back.
There's no doubt now that Price is a true No. 1. If he hadn't proved it before, he proved it this year, winning 20 games for the first time while topping 200 innings for the third consecutive year, and leading the league in ERA.
Verlander still gets the edge as the best in the game. Even Price agreed with that.
"He probably still gets my vote," Price said. "His track record is great. The way he takes the ball every five days, it's something I still look up to."
He doesn't need to look very far up. If he's not Verlander, he's not far behind.
He's in the conversation.