Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols will arrive at spring camp in Jupiter, Florida on Wednesday and has informed the club that he wants all talks regarding a contract extension to cease once he unpacks his things. The clock isn’t ticking, it’s screaming.
If you kept up with the story last week, it was all about doom and gloom. In fact, SI.com’s Jon Heyman said at one point that the Cardinals have “virtually no chance” of reaching a long-term contract extension by Pujols’ self-imposed deadline.
That might be the case, but at least one baseball executive believes that a deal will get done. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe spoke Saturday with a “general manager in a larger market,” who had little doubt that the two sides would eventually reach an agreement, no matter if it makes business sense or not:
“What will happen is, they’ll get it done,” said the unnamed general manager.” The Cardinals aren’t a small-market team, so they’re in that area where they probably have to do it because not doing it would create chaos and possible loss of revenue. But once in a while, you do something bold and think outside the box.’’
Pujols’ representatives and the members of the Cardinals’ front office have done an admirable job of keeping information about the course of the negotiations out of the media, so no one can really say for sure whether it’s going to get done. Albert is thought to have a 10-year, $275 million contract on his mind. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are reportedly trying to keep the extension to six or seven years. There is not much time left for the two sides to find a middle ground.
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.