Billy Wagner dominating on verge of 400th save, but Braves are riding him awfully hard

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When the Braves signed Billy Wagner this offseason there was some thought that they’d have to be cautious with the 38-year-old’s workload in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.
Instead he’s on pace for 70 appearances and 67 innings, which is pretty standard for a modern closer, and the Braves ramped up the workload last week by using Wagner for an inning Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Rarely do teams have a reliever work four straight days, let alone a 38-year-old reliever not that far removed from major surgery, but Wagner tossed a scoreless inning each time, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out five.
He also notched a win and three saves in the four appearances, and as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution notes Wagner is now one save away from joining Trevor Hoffman (596), Mariano Rivera (542), Lee Smith (478), and John Franco (424) in the 400-save club. I’d say that would increase his Hall of Fame case in the eyes of voters, but as the greatest left-handed reliever of all time his case should be obvious anyway.
Wagner has said that he plans to retire after the season, so there isn’t much long-term risk to running him out there on back-to-back-to-back-to-back days, but with the Braves sitting atop the NL East with the league’s best record there should be plenty of incentive to keep him healthy and sharp for the stretch run and playoffs.
So far so good, as Wagner is 5-0 with 14 saves and has been amazing with a 1.23 ERA, .168 opponents’ batting average, and 43/12 K/BB ratio in 29.1 innings, but it’ll be interesting to see if Bobby Cox loosens the reins a bit after leaning on him so heavily last week.

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.