Blue Jays trade just-acquired Mike Napoli to the Rangers for Frank Francisco

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Just days after acquiring catcher Mike Napoli from the Angels as part of the Vernon Wells trade/contract dump the Blue Jays have traded him to the Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco.

Napoli seemed like an odd fit in Toronto because the Blue Jays have catching prospect J.P. Arencibia ready to take over behind the plate this season, but the presence of free agent signing Yorvit Torrealba in Texas likely means Napoli won’t be a regular catcher for the Rangers either.

Instead, he’ll likely see some action behind the plate while also taking starts at first base or designated hitter from Mitch Moreland against left-handed pitching. Whatever slim chance there was of Vladimir Guerrero returning to the Rangers in a part-time role, the acquisition of Napoli seemingly rules his return out completely. During the past three seasons Guerrero has hit .297 with an .832 OPS versus lefties, but Napoli has been even better by hitting .310 with a .987 OPS off southpaws.

There’s nothing the Blue Jays could do to make the Wells trade (and any moves stemming from it) look like a mistake, but a good-hitting catcher generally has more value that a good but not great reliever and they just signed a pair of right-handed relievers in Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch. Toronto lost closer Kevin Gregg and setup man Scott Downs to free agency, so perhaps they felt even more bullpen reinforcements were needed, and certainly Francisco is a very good late-inning option who may beat out Dotel for closing duties.

Early struggles saw Francisco lose his closer job to Neftali Feliz in April and a strained rib muscle got him left off the Rangers’ playoff roster, but in between he posted a 2.84 ERA, .220 opponents’ batting average, and 57/16 K/BB ratio in 51 innings from mid-April to the end of August. He also had a 3.43 ERA, .206 opponents’ batting average, and 140/41 K/BB ratio in 113 innings during the previous two seasons.

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.