Chipper Jones has mentioned the possibility of retirement in the past, leading some to speculate that he would consider walking away following this season. Well, he told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier today that he has every intention of honoring the final guaranteed year on his contract.
“I’m playing next year,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday. “I still feel like I can go out there and play a good third base and be a threat, at least, at the plate. I’m having a good defensive year and the [batting] average is on the rise.”
Jones, who turns 40 next April, is owed $13 million next season in the final guaranteed year of his three-year, $42 million contract extension. His contract includes a club option for 2013, though it could automatically vest if he appears in 123 games next season or averages 127 games played between 2011 and 2012. Jones hasn’t ruled out playing in 2013, but will wait until next season to decide.
While Jones has battled the regular bumps and bruises this season and missed three weeks following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the switch-hitting third baseman is batting .275/.347/.466 with 12 homers, 56 RBI and an .813 OPS over 336 plate appearances. In fact, he has homered in each of the past two nights. Compare that to average major league third baseman, who has an ugly .248/.312/.379 batting line and a .691 OPS. He’ll stick around as long as he’s still healthy enough to hit.
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.