Diamondbacks bypass prospects, tab 35-year-old Kris Benson as fifth starter

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I wondered yesterday why teams give endless chances to washed-up veterans rather than turning to minor leaguers who might actually prove to have some long-term value. My specific example was Russ Ortiz and Ramon Ortiz both being on the Dodgers’ pitching staff despite neither having a decent season since 2004 and I also brought up Sidney Ponson, but the Diamondbacks just reminded me to add Kris Benson to the list.
Benson’s career has been wrecked by injuries rather than simply a lack of ability, but whatever the case he’s 35 years old and hasn’t been an effective major-league pitcher since 2005 or 2006, depending on how much slack you feel like giving on the term “effective.” When not injured he’s spent most of the past couple seasons in the minors, posting ERAs of 5.78 and 5.25.
Yet now that Arizona needs a fifth starter for the first time, they announced that Benson will join the rotation Saturday against the Padres. Asked why the Diamondbacks chose Benson, manager A.J. Hinch said: “We know he can handle the big leagues being poised and used to pitching up at this level for so long.” Benson’s last Quality Start came in 2006 and even then he had a 4.82 ERA.
According to Steve Gilbert of MLB.com “Benson outpitched Billy Buckner and Kevin Mulvey for the spot,” which of course was exactly my point from yesterday. Buckner and Mulvey certainly aren’t great prospects, but they’re reasonably promising 20-something pitchers whose minor-league resumes suggest they can likely be useful in the majors. Why not see what they can do rather than give yet another shot to a 35-year-old who hasn’t been good since Hinch was still a player?

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.