Andy Pettitte is going to miss 4-5 weeks with a groin injury. That likely puts Sergio Mitre in the rotation. Does that transform the Yankees from a team that appeared like it was going to stand-pat at the deadline into a serious buyer?
I’m sure the rumors will start flying now, but I’m less interested in what people are saying the Yankees will do than what they should do. On the one hand, losing Pettitte is a big deal. He’s been fantastic this year, and has certainly been the Yankees’ most consistent starter. Losing him for an extended period of time will hurt. On the other hand, the Yankees did give Mitre nine starts last year — and Chad Gaudin six — and somehow managed to survive well enough to win the World Series, so there’s no reason to panic simply because the Yankees will need to use the second string for a while.
Is Pettite missing six of seven starts really worth parting with young talent and taking on a big contract like, say, Roy Oswalt’s? That answer may depend on A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes. If Burnett’s latest meltdown is evidence that he’s simply unable to get it together this season and if the Yankees are going to keep their word and limit Phil Hughes’ innings down the stretch, yeah, they may be pitching shy. If Burnett’s temper tantrum is a wakeup call, however, and if the team is willing to push the envelope on Hughes’ workload, however, they may very well be able to survive the year without adding a top starter.
I don’t know that I have an answer for the Yankees. At least not one that goes beyond saying, in hindsight, it sure would have been nice for them to have pushed a but harder on Cliff Lee trade a couple of weeks ago. But that’s water under the bridge. The Yankees now face some water in the roadway ahead. How deep is it? Do they risk driving through it, or do they take a detour?
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.