Live from Target Field

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I’m here at Target Field, the weather is just about perfect, and after a couple decades of watching the Twins in the Metrodome the whole experience almost doesn’t even feel real.
The place is starting to fill up about 75 minutes from the first pitch. Actually, Joe Mauer was asked during batting practice about any surprises associated with the new ballpark and today in general, and the first thing he pointed to was that there were tons of fans lined up outside to greet him as he arrived at 9:00 a.m.
People are unbelievably excited about Target Field, and that includes the players too. Assuming they can find it, of course. Denard Span said that so far he only knows one way to the ballpark because he was so used to driving to the Metrodome. “After the game I might just drive around and try to find my way home,” Span said.
Almost every interview with a player included a few questions about playing outside, which is sort of weird considering even longtime Twins have played at least 50-60 games in non-domes each year. Yet somehow for guys like Michael Cuddyer and other veterans it seemed like a huge change. For a while at least, it may be sort of like playing road games, although Cuddyer noted that he thinks the big homefield advantage in the Metrodome was due more to loud fans than turf, roofs, or baggies. I’m skeptical.
Not much else to report yet. Mostly everyone is walking around saying different variations of “wow.”

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.