No, I’m not being sarcastic. I have seen the freakin’ light. Read on.
Everyone knows that I have a long history of allowing Jeff Francoeur — or, rather, the idea of Jeff Francoeur — drive me crazy. I never liked his game. I mocked the claims of his surrogates in the media that he was better than we thought. I was highly skeptical that he’d ever match his lofty reputation, etc. etc.
Last year, you may recall, I met Jeff Francoeur and discovered that … he was a great guy. Like, super nice. It made me rethink the whole idea of how and why we rip players and what it all means. And then he went and had a really spiffy season in Kansas City, thereby rendering most of my Francouer whining moot. Yeah, at the end of the year he got a new contract that was probably too big, but at this point Francoeur has earned the benefit of the doubt with me. I have no standing to get on him for a very long time, truth be told.
Way less so now that I read this story by Bojan Koprivica over at The Hardball Times in which Francoeur gave opposing fans $100 and an autographed baseball with explicit instructions on it to use the money to purchase bacon dogs and beer.
Yes. It’s true. Go read it. And then tell me that Jeff Francouer isn’t the finest sonofabitch who ever put on a major league uniform.
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.