Now that Neftali Feliz is apparently on board with the front office wanting to make him a starter Ron Washington is facing the very real possibility of being without his 40-save closer from last season and the manager told Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com that he’d expect the Rangers to acquire a veteran reliever to fill the role:
I have confidence in Jon Daniels and our scouts. If that’s the case, I’m 100 percent sure they’ll go out there and find somebody to close ballgames down for us. Who do we have in our bullpen that’s closed ballgames down? We ain’t talking about “might be able to.” We need somebody that’s bona fide to close ballgames down. But, like I said, if we need to stay in-house, we’ll figure that out.
What’s interesting about Washington’s push for an experienced closer is that Feliz had zero experience as a closer before saving a rookie-record 40 games as a 22-year-old. In fact, he was a full-time starter in the minors as recently as the middle of 2009 and came into last season with two career saves. Managers’ desire for “an experienced closer” is so strong that the guy who just went to the World Series with a 22-year-old ex-starter as a rookie closer isn’t even open to the idea of letting another inexperienced guy get first crack at the gig.
Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver certainly meet any qualification for relief experience, but neither of them has been a full-time closer and another in-house candidate, right-hander Mark Lowe, has just four career saves. Setting aside all the “experienced closer” stuff, the most obvious candidate to me is Alexi Ogando, who has overpowering raw stuff and posted a 1.30 ERA with a 39/16 K/BB ratio in 42 innings as a rookie. And soon enough hard-throwing prospect Tanner Scheppers will be ready for a call-up.
In other words, unless Washington is absolutely insistent on handing ninth-inning duties to someone with a significant number of career saves the Rangers are probably better off trusting another inexperienced guy to come through just like Feliz did last season.
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.