Pirates want more offense, yet shop Doumit

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The Pirates have been mention in connection with a bunch of second-tier free agents this winter, most notably Xavier Nady, Rick Ankiel and Hank Blalock. They have money and they need offense, so it’s completely understandable. Yet, at the same time that they’ve keep looking for a first baseman or a right fielder, indications are that they’re trying to move catcher Ryan Doumit.
While most would favor Nate McLouth, Doumit was perhaps the team’s best player in 2008, when he batted .318/.357/.501 and drove in 71 runs in 431 at-bats The performance earned him a three-year, $11.5 million contract last December.
The relationship has soured since then, though. Doumit has always been injury-prone, and the Pirates signed him based on his one relatively healthy season as a major leaguer. He played in just 75 games because of ailments last season, and he lost 140 points off his OPS. He was also quick to express his displeasure when the Pirates traded off McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson and gave up on any chance of competing.
If the Pirates trade Doumit now, they won’t get a whole lot in return. They’ll also likely take quite a hit offensively, though they could make up for some of that by landing a better defensive catcher. What they won’t do is move Jeff Clement back behind the plate. Clement, who has struggled with knee problems, is currently penciled in as the team’s first baseman, but he could be blocked if the club picks up a veteran.
If Clement could catch, a Doumit trade, following by an Ankiel signing, would make plenty of sense. The Pirates could improve offensively and defensively at the same time in such a scenario. But as is, if they trade Doumit, it would likely be to sign someone like Rod Barajas or Ivan Rodriguez to catch. Dioner Navarro might be the best-case scenario. They’re better off taking their chances with Doumit and seeing what Clement can do at first base.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.