While there was talk last month about the Dodgers potentially being a player for Albert Pujols or Prince Fiedler this winter, it’s clear that’s not happening.
Sources told FOXSports.com that the Dodgers will enter 2012 with a payroll “well under” $100 million. The team opened 2011 with a $104.1 million payroll.
The moves the Dodgers have made to date support that assessment. The two-year deal given to Mark Ellis is structured so that he’ll receive $2.5 million next year and $5.25 million in 2013. Matt Kemp, who could have commanded as much as $16 million-$17 million in arbitration, will earn just $10 million next year as part of his eight-year, $160 million contract.
The FOXSports report goes on to state that the Dodgers have left enough flexibility in their budget to bring back both Andre Ethier and James Loney for what will be their final years of arbitration eligibility. The opportunity would be there for them to get both better and cheaper at first base, but Loney apparently was saved by his late-season surge.
As is, the Dodgers project to have just two standout regulars in Kemp and Ethier. Their lineup will probably look something like: SS Dee Gordon, 2B Ellis, CF Kemp, RF Ethier, LF Juan Rivera, 1B Loney, 3B Juan Uribe, C A.J. Ellis.
If this comes to pass as FOXSports expects, it will be the first time since 2006 that the Dodgers will open with a sub-$100 million payroll.
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.