UPDATE: One down, five to go, as Shawn Marcum signs, avoiding arbitration. The deal is for $850,000, which ain’t bad for your top starter. Now, whether having Shawn Marcum as your top starter is another question . . .
1:25 P.M.: Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star reports that the Blue Jays have decided to play hardball with the six players on their roster who have accepted arbitration and that they won’t negotiate at all after figures are exchanged tomorrow.
I suppose that means he’s a tough guy. Of course it’s easy to be tough when your arbitration eligible players are Shaun Marcum (hurt all last season), Brian Tallet (generic swingman), Casey Janssen (hurt in 2008 and ineffective last year), Shawn Camp (useful, but not expensive or unique) and Jeremy Accardo (up and down between the minors and the big club). The only interesting case is Jason Frasor who is a nice player to have and arguably made real money last year ($1.45 million), but it’s not as though an arbitration loss there will break the bank.
People talk about the arbitration process being skewed in favor of the players or in favor of the owners all the time, but ultimately it’s skewed in favor of the side with the better case. This year the Blue Jays have a lot of good cases. Why not roll the dice?
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.