Ken Rosenthal writes that, despite the fact that things have been quiet on the Joe Mauer front, negotiations are still progressing and that the lack of any public talk about it doesn’t mean that there’s an impasse or anything close to it, as some have suggested.
There was some chatter in the press box at the Phillies-Twins game the other day about how the Twins are finding time to do things like extend Denard Span and Nick Blackburn contracts while Mauer remains in limbo. One thought — and this is my own thinking, not anything I heard — perhaps Mauer has suggested to the Twins that he’d like to see long term commitments to the supporting cast before he goes all-in, lest he find himself the only established player on the team one day a la Adrian Gonzalez or someone.
Other possibility: the Twins are simply trying to give themselves cost certainty with respect to Blackburn and Span on the theory that once they pull the trigger with Mauer, there’s not going to be much room for uncertainty in the arbitration process.
I realize that neither of these are the deepest thoughts in the world, but it seems like some Twins fans’ nerves get a little more frayed every day we get closer to Opening Day without Mauer being signed. My view? Nothing that has happened yet should give anyone cause for concern.
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.