Rays will have 11 of the top 75 picks in this year’s draft

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This morning I noted that free agents departing the Rays this offseason have signed elsewhere for a total of $215 million and since then Grant Balfour raised that figure even higher by signing a multi-year deal with the A’s.

While most of the focus has understandably been on the Rays losing so much major-league talent, having that many Type A and Type B free agents leave in one offseason also means Tampa Bay will be absolutely flush with draft picks in June.

The draft order isn’t official yet because there are still several Type A and Type B free agents on the market, but based on early projections from Jim Callis of Baseball America and Jason Collette at Dock of the Rays, it looks like the Rays will have 11 of the first 75 picks in this year’s draft.

Here’s a rough estimate of where they’ll be picking come June and how they got each pick:

24 (Red Sox’s pick for Carl Crawford)
31 (Yankees’ pick for Rafael Soriano)
32 (Rays’ own pick)
38 (Supplemental pick for Soriano)
41 (Supplemental pick for Crawford)
42 (Supplemental pick for Balfour)
51 (Supplemental pick for Joaquin Benoit)
55 (Supplemental pick for Randy Choate)
58 (Supplemental pick for Brad Hawpe)
59 (Supplemental pick for Chad Qualls)
75 (A’s pick for Balfour)

Oh, and the Rays also have their own second-round pick, which is 88th overall, giving them 12 of the top 88 picks. Based on Victor Wang’s work on draft pick value over at The Hardball Times, those 12 picks are likely worth around $30 million in surplus value over the cost to sign them. That won’t help Tampa Bay contend in 2011, but it’ll go a long way toward keeping the farm system stocked for years to come.

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.