Peter Gammons on the radio yesterday when asked about the possibility of the Red Sox trading Jon Lester in the offseason:
“I just sense that Jon is so unhappy here that I’m sure it would be good for him”
Jon Lester on Twitter last night:
While Lester is not dumb and would be well-advised to say such things no matter what his feelings are about Boston, I believe that one of the biggest areas of danger for anyone outside the clubhouse is to do that thing where we try to get inside a player’s head and try to figure out what they’re thinking.
It’s understandable why we do it. It’s human nature to try to figure out what other people are thinking. It’s tempting to try to reconcile and understand the stuff we see in a player’s performance with reference to assumptions about their feelings. I do it sometimes too even though I should know better.
But it’s way too easy to just whiff on that stuff or, more often, reduce a complicated set of circumstances to simple judgments like “player X is unhappy” or whatever. And while that initial judgment like Gammons’ here is fairly benign, it’s the kind of thing that gets picked up by lesser reporters, then the radio people and then common fan as some definite truth: “Lester hates Boston! Screw him!” And that leads to the toxic kind of atmosphere we often see in places like, hey, Boston.
Gammons knows a lot of people in the Red Sox front office and may have greater insight into this than we do. But when it comes to a player’s happiness, I think the odds of anyone not particularly close to him knowing anything useful about it are pretty low, and the risk of misunderstanding a given situation through such assumptions becomes pretty high.
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.