For the 1000th time, baseball does not need fixing

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You know what you rarely see from a legitimate baseball publication? An article about how to “fix” baseball. This is mostly because baseball folks tend not to think that there’s a ton wrong with the game, and they realize that that which is wrong is complicated enough to justify a dedicated article as opposed to some omnibus baseball-sucks rant. General interest magazines seem to have some baseball dilettante run one every other month, however, and they’re almost uniformly awful, evidencing an almost total misunderstanding of the game’s business and competitive dynamics.

But Matt Taibbi’s offering to that effect in Men’s Journal isn’t so bad!  Oh, it’s ignorant — badly misrepresenting baseball’s TV ratings and citing basketball and football as having their business and competitive houses in order when they most certainly do not — but it’s got two awesome things going for it:

1. A hilarious, albeit likely disingenuous mea culpa for writing last year that the Yankees were a “mercenary” team that couldn’t hope to buy itself a world title; and

2. A totally righteous defense of the old school version of Bernie Brewer, and attendant evisceration of new school Bernie Brewer, which may as well have come straight from my brain. It’s Milwaukee: if you’re gonna have a dude wearing lederhosen go down a slide after a home run, he damn well better land in a mug of beer.

Beyond that, Taibbi covers the following:

  • Instant replay: Taibbi wants it formalized, I prefer a fifth umpire in a booth who can simply overrule any dunderheaded calls by his colleagues;
  • Time controls: Taibbi wants to make pitchers pitch faster and hitters stay in the box. Amen, brother;
  • Salary cap: He wants one, I think that making rules to protect poor billionaires from those ruthless millionaires is all rather silly. If team owners are smart enough to make enough money to afford a baseball team they can figure out how to make one profitable on their own or else they shouldn’t have gotten into the business in the first place. If it’s a competitive balance thing there are better ways to do it;
  • Salary floor: I’m averse because it could prevent teams from tearing down and rebuilding when they need to. No one liked it when the Marlins cut back to a $14 million payroll, but it probably helped them get better faster than if they had pursued the course the Astros and the Royals have done.
  • Expanded rosters: Taibbi wants them. I say no way, because rather than use the extra slots to expand platooning like he wants, most teams would simply add a bunch of scrapheap relief pitchers. He thinks the games are long now, wait until La Russa can make nine pitching changes a game with impunity;
  • Finally, Taibbi asks: “can we please bring back really gross fat guys with bad facial hair?”

I’m all for that one, actually. Anyone know if Matt Stairs made the Padres roster?

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.