TAMPA, Fla. -- David Price was already an ace, as evidenced by the 2012 American League Cy Young Award he'll keep in the clubhouse early on this season. And he was already comfortable as a face of the franchise, as he showed when accepting the key to the city on Tuesday.
But after Tampa Bay dealt starters James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City for four prospects late Sunday night, Price will take on an entirely new role as the leader of the Rays' talented young pitching staff.
"If they want to look to me for advice, I'm an open book and they know that. They know they can come up and talk to me whenever they want," Price said Tuesday. "Everybody's going to step up, and first and foremost, we're going to have fun."
Price will head a Tampa Bay rotation facing the 2013 season without Shields, the veteran right-hander who served as a mentor and a role model for the Rays' young pitchers, including Price, over the past five years. While the 27-year-old lefty said he's happy to take on more of a leadership role, he cautioned that no one can fill that void on his own.
"We just need to step up. Nobody needs to try to take everything on, put everything on their back, and that's including myself," Price said. "I can't try to make up for James Shields and Wade Davis all by myself in one start and stuff like that. I'm just going to treat it the same way, go out there and try to give us a chance to win every fifth day. I think that's the most important thing that Shields kind of showed me, was taking that ball every fifth day."
Price noted that it should be easy for the rotation to work well together, as he's been friends with Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore for quite some time and spent the last several years with Jeff Niemann. Add in young right-hander Chris Archer, who will also get a shot at cracking the rotation, and Price feels pitching will still be Tampa Bay's strength next season, as it's been the last several years.
Of course, that didn't make it any easier for Price to watch Shields and Davis leave the only franchise they've known.
"Obviously, Shields and Wade were two of my good buddies on the team. It's part of the business," Price said. "That's what goes on. Nobody can stay with the same team forever. It's tough. They will definitely be missed. But we're definitely looking forward to the new guys."
While most of the reaction to the trade has deservedly been centered around Shields and the haul of prospects the Rays received, Price went out of his way to praise Davis, whom he pitched with in Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham in 2008 and '09.
"I honestly viewed him as a better pitcher than me at the time. He had better control. I feel like he had better stuff," Price said. "He's good. He's very good. Everybody saw what he did for us out of the 'pen last year, and that was tough to do when you've been a starter your entire life. ... That's tough for him to do, for him to have the season that he had and keep his head straight the entire year like he did. That speaks about his character and the way he can throw the baseball."
But in recent years, Price developed a closer relationship with Shields. The "co-ace" of Tampa Bay's staff the past few seasons, Price looked up to Shields not only because of the consistent way he pitched, but for his work ethic and dedication off the field -- the traits that made Shields the leader Price hopes to become in 2013.
"I haven't seen anybody like it," Price said. "He's definitely a role model for every baseball player to watch whenever they're coming up, because he does things the right way and he's a good teammate."