Former Royals manager Trey Hillman was on WHB radio in Kansas City over the weekend talking about the end of his tenure with the Royals. I thought Hillman’s words, upon being asked how it felt to manage his last game despite knowing he had already been fired, were rather sweet and poignant:
The thing that kept clicking in my mind was the appreciation that I
had for the opportunity in the first place, looking around the stadium,
the appreciation for the big league atmosphere. It was a perfect day
for it to be kid’s day out there quite frankly. I mean there is a
little irony there because having grown up in Arlington, Texas, and
having an opportunity to grow up in a major league ballpark and still at
forty-seven years old a major league manager and remembering the
excitement of being at a ballpark and how oblivious I was as a kid on
most days I was competitive and most days it was the enjoyment of being
at the ballpark. I didn’t really care whether our team won or not. I
was there to support them whether they won or they lost. It was an
appreciation that I have gotten to do what I have done for the last
twenty years in little, bitty A-ball towns, and AA venues and AAA across
the ocean in Japan and certainly here in Kansas City.
Hillman’s words put me in mind of a post from River Ave. Blues’ Benjamin Kabak last month, in which he introduced the concept of “Zen Baseball.” I don’t know that I’d recommend that the manager of a Major League baseball team approach the game from such a mindset, but it’s kind of nice that Hillman got to go out with the pleasant feeling of a (relatively) stress-free day at the park as oppposed to a quick meeting in the GMs office and a quick exit out the back door.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.