That’s because Andre Ethier is making his first career start in center field for the Dodgers against the Diamondbacks and southpaw Wade Miley.
Manager Don Mattingly indicated last night that Ethier would make a limited number of starts in center with Matt Kemp out. Tony Gwynn Jr. will play there against righties, but shifting Ethier to center against lefties allows the Dodgers to get Scott Van Slyke’s bat in the lineup.
Unfortunately, it also makes for a pretty dreadful outfield defense. The Dodgers have Jerry Sands starting in left field alongside Ethier and Van Slyke tonight.
Now, I could live with all of that except for one thing… James Loney is starting at first base tonight. The James Loney who is hitting .152/.200/.212 in 33 at-bats against left-handers this year. The James Loney who is a career .248/.304/.361 hitter in 743 at-bats versus southpaws.
I just don’t see how the Dodgers could possibly be better off with Loney at first base tonight than with Gwynn in center and Sands at first base. Gwynn can’t hit lefties either (career .237/.291/.294 in 262 AB), but at least he’s a superior defensive center fielder. He’d make three positions better by being in the starting lineup.
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.