Dusty Baker’s two-year contract expires after this season, but the Reds manager told reporters yesterday that he won’t be discussing his status in the future, saying:
What kind of factor can it be? Like I’ve said before, how many people have a one-year contract, period? You know how many times I’ve been in this situation? I’ve been in it four, five or six times, whatever it is. You just have to keep proving yourself I guess. Some people do and some people don’t. I’m one of the guys that seems like he has to, to keep proving myself. At this point, very little bothers me. I’m secure in myself, secure in my ability, secure in my family, secure in my life.
Mark Sheldon of MLB.com notes that this is the second time in three years that Baker has entered the season as a “lame duck” manager uncertain of his future. Last time that happened was 2010, when the Reds won 91 games and the division title, so it didn’t exactly hurt his performance then.
In fact, 2010 was Baker’s first winning season as a manager since 2004 and having a losing record in five of the past six seasons is no doubt part of the reason why Baker has to keep proving himself. Baker had a .540 winning percentage in 10 seasons managing Barry Bonds and the Giants, but has a .497 winning percentage in eight seasons since then.
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.