Vladimir Guerrero and Rangers facing interesting decision on $9 million option for 2011

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Vladimir Guerrero had a great first half, hitting .319/.364/.554 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs in 83 games to make the All-Star team for the first time since 2007, but then hit just .249/.293/.370 through his first 45 games of the second half.
That dropped his OPS from .925 to .826, but Guerrero has rediscovered his stroke. He had two hits yesterday and is now 15-for-30 (.500) with six extra-base hits in his last seven games. His overall line for the season is back up to .305/.348/.503, which is good for the 15th-best OPS in the league, and he’s driven in 100 runs for the 10th time.
Guerrero has been an excellent pickup for the Rangers on a one-year, $5.5 million deal, but as Todd Wills of MLB.com writes they’ll facing an interesting decision on whether or not to bring him back for 2011. Texas would no doubt love to have Guerrero back, but his contract has a $9 million mutual option or $1 million buyout.
It’s possible that Guerrero will decline his half of the option and hit the open market in search of a multi-year deal, and even if he wants to stick around it’s also possible that the Rangers may not want to invest that much in a 36-year-old designated hitter with a .423 slugging percentage in the second half. His situation is not totally unlike Jim Thome’s in Minnesota, although Thome has done his mashing for just $1.5 million.

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.