UPDATE: Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow told Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle that he shouldn’t have used “drunken sailors” to describe the Rangers’ activity in Latin America. He also clarified his comments by saying that his point “was more about the magnitude of their investment prior to future limitations. Not saying it’s a bad strategy but one that many teams can’t afford.”
Hey, can’t blame the Rangers for getting while the getting is good. Luhnow would probably do the same if he was in the same spot as Daniels.
8:01 PM: The Astros and Rangers play in the same state and will soon be in the same division, but they shouldn’t exactly be considered rivals. Not yet, anyway. However, new Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow fired a shot across the bow earlier this afternoon in reference to the back-to-back American League champions.
Luhnow, who was in attendance for the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT, said that the Rangers are spending like “drunken sailors” in Latin America thanks to a new television contract.
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News spoke with Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels, who responded to Luhnow’s comment by saying the following:
“I couldn’t be more proud of what our scouts and coaches have accomplished with the support of ownership. No need to respond to comments like that.”
Rangers’ president Nolan Ryan also refused to take the bait:
“I wish I had something witty to say,” Ryan said. “But my mother always told me that if I don’t have anything nice to say than to just be quiet.”
The Rangers have been pretty aggressive in Latin America over the past year, signing Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin to a five-year, $15.5 million deal last May and Dominican outfielders Ronald Guzman ($3.5 million) and Nomar Mazar ($5 million) a few months later. But they really ruffled some feathers among MLB executives earlier this week by agreeing to sign Dominican outfielder Jairo Beras for $4.5 million when many teams believed he was only 16 years old and thus ineligible to sign until July 2, which is when the new international spending cap goes into effect. The signing is currently being investigated by MLB.
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.