P.R. professionals like to use the term “optics” to refer to how things look (as opposed to what is really going on). You could have just given $100,000 to an orphanage, but if you are seen berating your assistant for sloppy writing on the big oversized check that will be paraded before the media, those are “bad optics.”
Maybe that’s all superficial stuff. But sometimes the optics of a given situation tell some fundamental truth about that situation. And while I’m not a P.R. professional, I do wonder if Frank McCourt has thought through the optics of this day. A day on which (a) he’ll be in New York meeting with MLB executives to plead his case about keeping control of the Dodgers; while (b) the new man in control of the Dodgers, Tom Schieffer, will hold a press conference in Los Angeles where he’ll no doubt talk about how deeply he cares about restoring the Dodgers to financial sanity.
Is there no one in Frank McCourt’s circle of advisors who told him that it may be a good idea for him to be seen showing an equal amount of concern for the Dodgers on this day, at least publicly, and then going to New York next week in order to restore his personal control over the team?
Because when the narrative of his reign in Los Angeles is “the man ran the team into the ground while extracting a hundred million bucks or more from it for his own personal use,” looking like a bit more of a team player seems important.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.