The Mariners have finally seen enough; Justin Smoak was demoted after a fourth straight hitless game Monday in the loss to the Yankees. He was 1-for-20 with 12 strikeouts over his previous six games, dropping his average to .189.
In truth, the Mariners likely would have sent Smoak to Triple-A few weeks ago had they possessed anyone worth replacing him. Mike Carp is finally set to be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday, and while he started the year in left field, he’ll likely play first base for now.
The Mariners may not have completely given up on the 25-year-old Smoak, the key player they received from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal two years ago, but it’s doubtful they’ll be quick to bring him back. While he did have 13 homers in 344 at-bats, they came with a .253 on-base percentage. His slugging percentage was also held down by the fact that he had just six doubles.
It’s likely that Smoak will get his job back in September as the Mariners try to decide whether he should be included in their plans for 2013. After drafting catcher Mike Zunino third overall last month, the Mariners may consider trying Jesus Montero as their first baseman next year.
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.