With the trade deadline looming on July 31st and David Price’s Tampa Bay career coming to an inevitable close at the end of next season (the latest) as he becomes the hottest free agent arm on the market, the MLB All-Star game was supposed to mark the beginning of the Price sweepstakes.

For much of the season, the Rays were battling Boston for the AL East cellar. With Price being tied into arbitration for one more season, the Rays risk losing the “Black Ace” in 2016 and getting nothing more than a deuces sign in return, so with the Rays apparently in a rebuild mode, most baseball minds assumed he’d be traded by now to a team on the cusp of a championship or in need of a playoff-proven ace.

The Rays have made it clear that their financial structure won’t accommodate what the former Cy Young and 20-game winner will command on the free agent market next summer. Adding a "Black Ace" like Price to any rotation is a game-changer and there should be a line of suitors longer than I-85, but if you’re the Rays, you don’t just give away  top flight, shutdown MLB arms. That’s why Tampa’s been very stubborn – greedy even – with possible trade scenarios.

In addition, after spending the first couple months of the year buried in the depths of the league standings with scrub squads like the Windy City Whimperers (Chicago Cubs) and Arizona Diamondbacks, the Rays’ recent surge has them just 4.5 games out of the last AL wild-card spot and 7.5 games behind the first-place Orioles in a wide open American League East division.

After sporting one of the league’s worst records through June, the Rays are 15-5 in July, which is red-hot by MLB standards. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian says the recent turn of events has given Tampa a “change of heart” and they won’t deal Price by the trade deadline.

He feels that unless something completely changes and the Rays fall apart, it’s hard to imagine them reverting back to a selling mentality. Expect them to keep this team intact for the most part, and make a real run at a division.

"I don't know where I'd go," Price told the Tampa Bay Times during the MLB All-Star break. "Nobody wants to give up what the Rays want… injuries could happen, something like that and somebody might eventually just do it. But I don't see the Rays caving in, I really don't. …They want something big. They want the James Shields-Will Myers trade again."

Price’s 1-year/$14 million deal is well below his open market value, but it's still a historic one-year deal for the Rays’ frugal franchise. He is expected to command a contract in the $200 million neighborhood in free agency. A contract of that magnitude directly conflicts with Tampa’s success model, which is based on reserved contracts, youth movements and a savvy front office that can heist studs like 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Meyers and African-American hurler Chris Archer (Cubs deal 2011).

Past rumors have had the four-time All-Star going to the Yankees and the Reds and a laundry list of other teams. With another season to decide, Tampa is in the driver’s seat right now. However, the longer it takes them to trade Price, the more leverage they lose with teams who know that the clock is ticking. Price himself mentioned the lowly Chicago Cubs, saying “Chicago would be hands down the coolest city to win a championship" because of the Cubs' extended title drought.”

That’s Price. He doesn’t need the bright lights and big city of the Yankees. He’d rather not have the hot magnifying glass on his ass every five days. He’s gotten used to being able to mess up in Tampa and not get driven out of town before he has the opportunity to show his greatness. Plus, he’s had killer success with the Rays. If it was up to him, he’d probably stay in Tampa and continue to go head up against the leagues major market goliaths and flagship MLB franchises like The O’s, Yanks and Red Sox as he did last season. Price battled injuries and helped Tampa Bay go 51-35 from the beginning of July to the close of the season to make the playoffs. That record was started by a very similar stretch during the month of July in which they had an eight-game winning streak.

With Rays skipper Joe Maddon experiencing flashbacks and smelling AL East blood, the likelihood of giving up a guy who is 11-7 and leading the AL in games started (22), innings pitched (163.2) and K’s (183) is diminishing by the day. It would take a heist of a package to pry Price from Tampa’s grips. Some teams might have missed their shot by not coming strong enough before. Trades of this nature are complex and strategy plays a huge role in getting the best deal.

For now, Tampa has Price and still holds the advantage. While other AL East opponents struggle to patch together a formidable staff that can withstand the dog days of a 162-game schedule, the Rays boast a rotation that includes Price, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb and we know how baseball rolls – the proof is in the pitching.

Price is once again the wild card piece in a chess match between the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the league. Their unwillingness to trade him doesn’t do anything but increase his value and speak volumes to the 28-year-old’s worth as one of MLB’s top slingers. It also keeps small-market marvel Tampa in contention for a second-consecutive, historical comeback in the AL East.