That’s one of my working theories for the odd case of Jose Mijares.
Now, Mijares was pretty bad last year, finishing with a 4.59 ERA and a 30/30 K/BB ratio in 49 innings for the Twins. Still, between 2009-10, he had a 2.67 ERA and an 83/32 K/BB ratio in 94 innings. The Twins probably could have kept him for $700,000-$1 million as a first-time arbitration eligible player, but they non-tendered him and the Royals signed him as a free agent for $925,000.
And, in his limited role as a lefty specialist, Mijares was pretty great as a Royal. He had a 2.56 ERA and a 37/13 K/BB ratio in 38 2/3 innings for the season. He was charged with just one blown save versus 11 holds. Lefties were hitting .214 with just one homer and five walks in 84 at-bats against him.
Still, when Mijares was placed on waivers last week, no American League team bothered putting in a claim. He also made it through 10 National League teams before the Giants were awarded the claim.
And then the truly shocking event; the Royals simply let him go, getting only the waiver price return. It’s going to save them about $175,000 (Mijares had about $325,000 left on his contract; the minimum-salaried player replacing him on the roster will make about $175,000 the rest of the way). That’s nothing for a major league team.
Also, it’s not like they merely lost Mijares for the rest of this year; he was under team control through 2014. He’ll probably be due $1.25 million-$1.5 million in arbitration next year.
So, there’s one obvious answer here; Mijares was a real problem in the clubhouse. That was part of why the Royals dropped Yuniesky Betancourt on Sunday, and Mijares has long been viewed as something of a headcase. The Royals obviously didn’t think he’d be worth keeping around in 2013, so they figured they might as well let him go now.
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.