Now that Prince Fielder is officially a member of the Detroit Tigers, many have assumed that the Rangers will step up their efforts to sign Josh Hamilton to a contract extension.
While contract talks are expected to continue leading into spring training, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said during an appearance yesterday on ESPN 103.3 in Dallas (via Jon Machota of FOX Sports Southwest) that he never viewed things as an either-or situation in regard to Fielder and Hamilton.
“I look at it like we would like to get a deal with Josh — Prince or no Prince,” Daniels said. “We would like to keep Josh here for an extended period of time. It’s got to be a deal that works for both sides. He’s got kind of a unique set of circumstances because of how his career has played out, and he’s going to reach free agency at a different age than where Prince will or even a guy like Elvis [Andrus] will because he got to the big leagues so young.
“Josh, I think rightfully so, is going to look at this as maybe the one time he really hits free agency and how does he factor that in with his family and the different opportunities that he has. We’re talking to them about this, the Rangers organization as a group. We love Josh. We love what he’s about, and we want to keep him here, and we’re going to continue talking to him and hopefully we’ll figure something out.”
These are some refreshing comments by Daniels. We’re so used to hearing canned responses from team officials about how they’d love to keep a player around for a long time without getting into any of the complications involved. Daniels seems to get that fans are much smarter than that, especially in regard to Hamilton’s unique situation.
Setting aside his immense popularity, Hamilton turns 31 years old in May and hasn’t played more than 133 games in a season since 2008. That makes this negotiation pretty tricky. Would a three- or four-year deal (perhaps with a vesting option based on games played) work for the Rangers? Maybe. But they should absolutely draw a line in the sand. And nobody should blame Hamilton if he turns them down and bolts for a big payday this winter. Given his durability issues, it will likely be the only long-term deal of his major-league career.
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.