Cubs president Theo Epstein has developed (and will distribute) a pamphlet outlining the way he expects players in the organization to behave. Especially those tempted by the Chicago nightlife.
“It’s been a factor in ruining some careers,” Epstein told the Chicago Tribune. “And I’m sure it’s been an impediment to the Cubs in winning. … The approach we’re going to have is the opposite of laissez faire. We’re not just going to say, ‘Oh, that’s the way it is. This is Chicago. Boys will be boys. I’m sure they’re going to get enough sleep and I’m sure they’ll show up the next day ready to play.’ That’s a failure on the organization’s part. We have to take a very proactive approach in setting a high standard.”
The Cubs still play far more day games than any other team in Major League Baseball. And in a city with 4 a.m. liquor licenses, that can mean rough sleep schedules for athletes who like to go out.
“It’s important for young players to recognize that you need to get your sleep,” veteran outfielder Reed Johnson told the Tribune. “This is your career. This is what you do for a livelihood. You need to treat it that way, especially in our park. You don’t have that extra 10 hours when you wake up in the morning to get ready for that 7 o’clock night game.”
So instead of treating grown-ups like grown-ups and hoping for good decision-making, the new Epstein-led regime is informing players this spring that with a new sheriff comes a new set of expectations.
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.