The Tigers never asked Jose Valverde to get more than three outs during the regular season. On Wednesday, they asked him to do it for the second time in three days, and it backfired in a big way.
Mike Napoli delivered an RBI single and Nelson Cruz hit a three-run homer in the top of the 11th as the Rangers dropped the Tigers 7-3 to take a 3-1 lead in the ALCS. Valverde, who pitched a scoreless 10th in a tie game, struggled having already pitched two innings on Monday and one to earn a save Tuesday.
Valverde remains a perfect 52-for-52 in save situations this year (49-for-49 in the regular season, 3-for-3 in October), but he has frequently struggled while working in tie games or with the Tigers behind (he had a 5.79 ERA in non-save situations during the regular season). Since there was no chance of a save situation for the Tigers in extra innings tonight, manager Jim Leyland was certainly right to bring Valverde in for the 10th in a tie game. Keeping him out for the 11th for his fifth inning in three days was the questionable decision.
The Rangers also made a questionable decision of their own in the 11th. Scott Feldman, who has been awesome in the postseason, pitched a perfect 10th, throwing just 11 pitches. He certainly seemed like a very good bet to hold on to a four-run lead in the 11th. Manager Ron Washington went by the book, though, and turned the ball over to his closer anyway. Neftali Feliz had an easy inning to secure the victory, but given that the Rangers are playing the next two days, one could certainly argue that there was more to be gained by saving him for Thursday.
The decisions from both Jim Leyland and Washington figure to have ramifications in a close game Game 5. Valverde will certainly be available with the Tigers’ season on the line, but who knows how effective he’ll be? The Rangers, on the other hand, might shy away from Alexi Ogando, who threw two innings tonight, and while they’ll have Feliz in the ninth, they probably won’t extend him beyond three outs.
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.