It won’t be Ichiro. It might not be King Felix. Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times believes that Tom Wilhelmsen should be the Mariners’ lone All-Star this year.
It’d sure be a nice story if it comes to fruition. Wilhelmsen, originally a seventh-round pick of the Brewers in 2002, was suspended in 2004 after twice testing positive for marijuana and decided to quit baseball prior to the start of the 2005 season. He spent the next five years as a bartender before attempting a comeback with the Mariners in 2010. He made his major league debut a year ago, and he took over as Seattle’s closer this season with Brandon League struggling.
Wilhelmsen currently has a 2.84 ERA and five saves, numbers that hardly scream All-Star. However, he’s working on a string of 14 2/3 scoreless innings, and he has 47 strikeouts in 38 innings on the season.
Felix Hernandez has to be the odds-on favorite to be the Mariners’ All-Star. He hasn’t been at his best this season, but he is the superstar and he has his ERA down to 3.36 now. There’s also another bullpen option besides Wilhelmsen: left-hander Charlie Furbush has a 2.01 ERA and an incredible 0.57 WHIP in his 31 1/3 innings of relief work. He’s struck out 39 and walked just five this season.
On offense, the only possibilities are Kyle Seager (.258/.315/.457, 10 HR, 45 RBI) and Michael Saunders (.267/.330/.442, 8 HR, 12 SB), neither of whom would be close to making the team on merit.
So, why not Wilhelmsen? He’d be the nicest story of the group, and with the way he’s throwing now, he’d be a fine choice to try to get a tough righty out late in the game.
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.