Veteran infielder Ronnie Belliard said Tuesday that tonight’s game for the Phillies’ Triple-A Lehigh Valley affiliate will be his last and that he’s going to retire.
Belliard signed a minor league deal with the Phillies after failing to make the Yankees out of spring training this year. He played in 82 games with the Dodgers last season, hitting .216/.295/.327 in 162 at-bats.
Belliard was quite an underrated player at his peak. He was viewed as a disappointment after coming up with the Brewers, in part because he never really improved after his strong rookie season. Also, he often got dinged because he always carried some extra weight. No one likes a middle infielder with a gut.
Still, he was a rock-solid second baseman for several years and even an All-Star in 2004. He had his best Triple Crown season in 2005, hitting .284 with 17 homers and 78 RBI. Later, he proved to be a very useful role player with the Nationals in 2008, hitting .287/.372/.473 in 296 at-bats, and in 2009, when he was a great pickup for the Dodgers down the stretch.
In all, Belliard hit .273/.338/.415 with 114 homers and 601 RBI in 1,481 games. His career OPS+ of 96 bests that of fellow second basemen Brandon Phillips (.268/.318/.427, 94) and Aaron Hill (.268/.322/.420, 95).
Odds are that he would have had a longer and more productive career had he focused more on his conditioning. Maybe he’d still be going strong as a regular at age 36 right now. Teams certainly would have been more interested in taking a chance on him if he just once made a point of showing up in the best shape of his life.
But so what? It was his career, and it was a darn good one that allowed him to make about $16 million in the process. Outside of the horrible 2002 season that caused the Brewers to kick him to the curb, he was pretty much always a useful player when healthy. And now he has a glorious second career in the world of competitive eating to look forward to.
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.