Tony La Russa did his best today to defuse the budding controversy surrounding Colby Rasmus and his future with the team, telling the Post-Dispatch that to say the situation has devolved to an “either Rasmus goes or La Russa goes” state it all wrong and overstates the situation.
Which I agree, it states the matter too strongly. La Russa is going to go when he wants to, not because management forces him out over a dustup with Colby Rasmus. By the same token, Rasmus is not going to get shipped out just because people are getting snippy with him in the course of a horrendous late-season swoon. Stuff happens when teams lose and ugliness comes to the fore.
Of course, because he’s Tony La Russa, his comments make it very clear that he thinks everyone has it all wrong but him. I’ve still yet to hear any explanation for why Rasmus’ playing time has been so wonky (one that makes any sense, anyway). Likewise, I’d be curious to know who leaked word that Rasmus had asked for a trade earlier this season, because the only person whose cause that helps to have out there is La Russa’s (i.e. Rasmus being difficult gives La Russa cover for jerking him around).
Rasmus may not understand that his best move is always to keep quiet, play well and let things sort themselves out until his power to control his own destiny increases with service time. But it seems to me that La Russa has a lot of run-ins with players that go public, and that reflects more poorly on La Russa than Rasmus’ immaturity reflects on him.
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.