Rockies pick a foolish way to break the bank

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In reading work from the Denver Post’s Troy Renck and ex-Rocky Mountain News columnist Tracy Ringolsby, I’ve seen dozens (hundreds?) of references to players being too expensive for the Rockies over these last few years. Time and time again that player set to make $6 million, $9 million or $12 million per year was labeled out of reach. It was a constant theme.

And now the Rockies have signed Michael Cuddyer for $31.5 million over three years.

In doing so, they’re replacing a 29-year-old outfielder who has hit .275/.346/.487 the last three years with a 33-year-old who has hit .276/.341/.465 over the same timespan.

Yeah, read that again.

Now, that’s not entirely fair. Seth Smith has been platooned, so his fine slash line has been compiled overwhelmingly against righties. Smith has also taken advantage of playing in Coors Field, whereas Cuddyer has been playing in a very tough environment for power hitters since Target Field opened two years ago. While Smith has the better OPS, Cuddyer has a 117-110 advantage in OPS+, which is neutralized for league and ballpark.

Still, that’s just not much of an upgrade if it is one at all. Both are subpar defenders. Smith moves around a little better than Cuddyer, but he’s never mastered the art of playing the outfield. Cuddyer offers versatility, but really, no team should want him at second or third in much less than an emergency.

The Rockies are a little better today than they were yesterday, but only a little. It seems like there had to be a better way for them to spend their $10.5 million. Trading Smith and a prospect for Martin Prado would soften the blow, giving them a legitimate upgrade at second base to go along with their lesser one in the outfield. But, really, I think it would have made more sense to use that $10.5 million per year on Edwin Jackson instead.

In their defense, the Rockies were in something of a tough spot. It’s hard for them to sign pitchers without overpaying, and their biggest needs on offense were second base and third. Excepting a weak defender in Aramis Ramirez, there were no premier free agents at either of those positions, and really, the Rockies only wanted a one-year solution at third with Nolan Arenado potentially ready in 2013.

Still, Cuddyer wasn’t the answer to any question worth asking. And next time the Rockies can’t afford someone, the $31.5 million they spent today will be a big reason why.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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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.