While some folks tell us not to care about such things, the fact remains that there is a fifth starter’s race in the Bronx, so we may as well pass along the developments that transpire therein.
Joba pitched in that intra-squad game yesterday giving up two runs on six hits in five innings against mostly backups and AAA talent. Hughes pitched against a Phillies lineup consisting of many starters, but Hughes did pitch late in the game and there had been many substitutions by then. His line score looked superficially bad — four runs on five hits in 4.1 innings with three homers — but (a) people who were at the game are saying that the wind was blowing out strong; (b) Hughes struck out six; and (c) Joe Girardi said that Hughes had his best stuff all spring. Which matters more than a random line score in the Grapefruit League.
Girardi says that he’s going to make his decision by Thursday. Most people are assuming at this point that it will be Hughes, partially because he threw well yesterday, partially because they view Joba’s appearance in a split squad game as some kind of exile and partially because people are still in love with 2007 Joba Chamberlain and the bullpen and all of that. And it may very well be Hughes. Usually when the tabloid guys pull something out of their posterior someone will contradict it in short order, but thus far no one has contradicted the “it’s Hughes” conventional wisdom.
Which is fine, at least as long as it doesn’t mean that the Yankees are going to forever consign Chamberlain to the pen. Working him in to the rotation a bit this season to give tired arms a rest and planing on him moving in to replace Pettitte or Vazquez next year makes a lot more sense than ending his career as a starter at age 24.
Especially considering that he really hasn’t done anything to lose his spot as a starter as much as Hughes has done to win a spot as one. If that makes any sense.
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.