Should we just forget the search for a fifth starter?

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A lot of time has been spent trying to figure out who should be the fifth starter in New York, but if it were up to FanGraph’s Marc Hulet, we wouldn’t even be making the effort:

Teams spend millions of
dollars and thousands of hours crunching data to build a successful
five-man rotation, but it’s all in vain. The truth of the matter is that
these mythical creatures don’t actually exist. If we look back to the 2009 season, only two teams had five starters
on their pitching staffs that made 24 or more starts: the Chicago Cubs
and the Colorado Rockies.

Hulet has a better idea: rather than pick one guy to be the fifth man in the rotation, make it a committee affair, filling that fifth slot with a veteran long reliever who could make 8-10 starts, a young pitching prospect who can make 8-10 starts and split the season between the minors and the big club and fill the remainder of the starts with minor league veterans and organizational soldiers.

I like the thinking — don’t anoint anyone “fifth starter” and, rather, use that slot as a proving ground of sorts — but it just seems impractical for anyone but a rebuilding team.  The first time the young prospect gets a go and has a nice outing everyone will be clamoring for him to keep the job. The first time the swingman gets shelled everyone will wonder why a career long relief guy is starting games.

Hulet’s idea is a nice way to optimize resources and give multiple guys looks, but it overlooks the fact that managers get cameras and tape recorders shoved in their faces every single night and are expected to explain themselves. That’s stressful and distracting even if the skipper has the backing of the front office. Upshot: neat idea, but I think it’s ultimately unworkable.

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.