It’s Draft Day

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The Rule 4 draft is today.  That’s the fancy way of saying “the regular old draft.” It used to go on until teams got tired of picking, maybe reaching a hundred rounds. Then it was cut to 50. It’s now a crisp 40 rounds. I fully expect you have your team’s 40 picks all mapped out and are, as we speak, painting yourself in team colors and heading to Madison Square Garden for the insanity.

Oh, wait.  This is not the NFL or NBA so the insanity is kept to a minimum.  Indeed, no one in this draft is going to be a household name already, let alone someone who is going to immediately change the fortunes of the team which selects them.  Baseball just doesn’t work like that.  Which is probably good because I don’t think I could stomach some five-hour glitzy prime-time telecast with baseball’s equivalent of Chris Berman and Mel Kiper barking at me.

Overall, draft experts are saying that there isn’t much in the way of extreme impact talent a la Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg, so unless you’re a big fan of amateur baseball or religiously read Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein or Keith Law, you probably don’t know a ton of these dudes. Confession: I don’t either. It’s enough to keep up with the majors and high minors. I’m sort of lost when it comes to the draft — there are people whose full time job it is to follow it — so we’re reading the same stuff in that regard.

It’s even more complicated this year, as several new rules besides the round limits are in place:

Under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, teams will have a pool of bonus money from which to sign players. The Astros, for example, have about $11.2 million to use as bonuses on their 11 picks through the 10th round. The Twins, who have 13 picks in 10 rounds, have about $12.4 million to use for bonuses. Teams face a punitive tax and the possibility of losing draft picks if they stray from the prescribed bonuses.

All of the teams have been thinking about this since the new CBA was signed, but I imagine it’s still kind of scary for them.  Add in to it the fact that the signing deadline for drafted players has been moved up to mid-July, and there is added pressure.

So, lots of uncertainty. But I do know this much: the Astros pick first and are widely expected to take Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, who (a) happens to throw close to 100 m.p.h.; and (b) is from Houston.  And there is nothing as old and time-tested in the baseball draft as tall, hard-throwing Texas pitchers, so it’s not all unusual.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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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.