Tony La Russa, the honorary manager of this year’s National League All-Star team, got to hand-select only nine of the players for his roster. And he had to be sure that every organization was represented.
He went with left-hander Wade Miley (as the Diamondbacks’ only rep), outfielder Giancarlo Stanton (as the Marlins’ only rep), Huston Street (as the Padres’ only rep), then grabbed Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz from the Phillies, Clayton Kershaw from the Dodgers, Ian Desmond from the Nationals and Jay Bruce from the Reds.
All fine choices (and zero Cardinals). But Cincy apparently believes the fix was in.
According to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Reds manager Dusty Baker indicated Sunday that he thinks La Russa intentionally skipped over Johnny Cueto and Brandon Phillips because of their involvement in a number of altercations over the years with the team that Tony used to manage:
“I don’t understand that one,” said Baker. “A snub like that looks bad. Johnny and Brandon were at the center of skirmish between us and the Cardinals. Some of the Cardinals who aren’t there anymore are making some of the selections.”
Cueto, who ended Jason LaRue’s career with repeated kicks to the head during a benches-clearing incident between the Cards and Reds in August 2010, had his own interpretation of the All-Star snub. More from Fay:
“I see that I have great numbers,” said Cueto. “I thought the way I pitched this year, I’d have a chance to go to the All-Star Game. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if the manager of All-Star Game is pissed at me because I went out with one of his girlfriends.
I don’t know if they base their selection on the brawl. That’s not the way it should be. … They should pick and choose players by their numbers.”
Cueto has a 2.26 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 107 2/3 innings this year. Phillips declined to talk to the media.
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.