The answer to that question begins with a series of mildly complicated algorithms. It ends with Price joining the Rays sometime later in the season to help in the stretch and, ahem, their return to the playoffs.
For you Chicago fans who may be a bit perplexed at the moment, this is the anti-Cubs-in-the-early-2000s approach to bringing up young pitchers.
John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times reports:
"The front office is fanatical when it comes to protecting the arms of pitching prospects. The Rays did extensive research a few years back and discovered younger pitchers were at greater risk for arm troubles when they had an increase of more than 20 percent in innings pitched from one season to the next.
"Considering Price's long-term value, it seems unlikely the Rays will allow him to jump from around 130 innings in 2008 to more than 200 innings this season. They'd probably prefer 170. They might push 180. Anything else is a game of roulette."
In short, why waste precious Price innings in April, when you can keep him fresh for when it really counts? It's not unlike freezing unused chicken breast.
Manager Joe Maddon put it this way to the St. Pete Times:
"We want him to be very successful right out of the chute, without any hesitation or backward movements. We don't want him going back and forth between here and Triple A. When he gets here, we want him to stay here for a very long time. That's why we want everything to be as perfect as possible."
"As perfect as possible" -- it's certainly a lovely notion, but we all know that nothing's perfect in love and baseball. As in, Rays fans would love to see David Price get the ball April 11, but in a perfect world, maybe he'll be the Opening Day starter in 2011.
It's nice to see teams coddling their pitching prospects a bit. If you followed the Cubs from 2003-2006 you witnessed the rise and fall of the two of the best pitching prospects in franchise history with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Perhaps with a bit of temperance on the part of Dusty Baker, "longevity" may be a word more commonly associated with Cubs pitching instead of "bust."