How often do the Yankees face the Red Sox and have the mere fact of the matchup not be the biggest thing going that week? That’s certainly the case this week as, at least by my reckoning, the two-game tilt with the Sox ranks third or maybe fourth on the Bronx Bombers’ hype-o-meter. Above it:
- Coming to grips with the Mariano Meltdown yesterday. Like I said earlier today, I think Mo will be just fine — we all have bad days at work sometimes — but you can bet that the team will be asked many more questions about yesterday’s aberration before tonight’s game than they will about the Red Sox;
- The Rays series. The Yankees took two of three from the Rays back in the first week of the season, but that was before we all got our minds around how good the Rays are. Two games against the team you’re trailing in the standings > two games against a scuffling Red Sox squad, and that’s the case no matter how much lip service the Yankees pay the Sox today and tomorrow;
- The Subway Series kicks off this weekend with three games at Citi Field. Maybe the players are above it all, but the press and the fans in New York are probably wondering if the Yankees can deliver a knockout blow to the Jerry Manuel era with a decisive series. That is, if Manuel even survives the week.
So yes, Yankees-Red Sox is a big deal and, usual ESPN-bashing notwithstanding, it is probably the best matchup going tonight and thus worthy of the national broadcast (that is, unless San Francisco and San Diego want to move their game to 4:05 PM Pacific Time).
But it ain’t the kind of big news it usually is, and probably isn’t even the biggest thing on the Yankees’ mind this week.
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.