What if Harper and Trout are Mantle and Mays all over again?

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Great piece over at The Platoon Advantage by our friend Bill today, looking back at the days when Mantle and Mays dominated national coverage of the game.

Bill notes that it’s so rare to have a couple of guys dominate the baseball conversation for so long because fame — and extreme peak value — is fleeting. but he wonders if Bryce Harper and Mike Trout might get the same treatment, if for no other reason than because of the superficial similarities between those two and Mantle-Mays:

Mantle and Mays were both rookies in 1951; Mantle was in his age-19 season, Mays his age-20. Harper is 19 and Trout 20, as you probably know, both technically in their rookie seasons — though they’re over a year apart, while Mantle and Mays were closer to six months. All four players have been centerfielders, and in both pairs, the older of the two appears to be the more defensively gifted and more likely to stay and excel there long-term … In both cases, the younger appears to be the slightly better hitter, while the older has stolen base titles in his future. In both cases, the younger had been hyped as a golden boy from well before day one, while the older took the sport somewhat by surprise … They’re superficial comparisons, but there’s an eerily large number of them to be made.

One difference, I guess is that Mantle and Mays both made it big in big New York, and were both in the World Series from the get-go. Indeed, they faced each other in 1951. Mays wowed the world in 1954 with that famous catch and Mantle made the World Series his home for most of the  next 13 years.  Baseball also had way more of a share of the national sporting consciousness in the 1950s and 60s than it does today.

But those quibbles aside, I do agree that we’re seeing something special here. Two stars, so young and so exciting.  If the Angels face the Nats in the World Series this year — and hey, that’s as good a pick as any right now — watch out.

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.