CC Sabathia is the game’s highest-paid hurler, but David Price has pretty obviously supplanted him as the AL East’s best pitcher. Tampa Bay’s ace picked up his league-leading 18th win Friday as the Rays topped the Yankees 6-4.
Price allowed two runs in seven innings to become the AL’s first to 18 victories. Sabathia gave up four runs in 6 2/3 innings to drop to 13-6. The Yankees have lost each of his last four starts.
The Yankees did make a late charge in the eighth, when Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer off Joel Peralta to make it a 5-4 game. The typically reliable Peralta then exited with a man on first and one out, with Rays manager Joe Maddon asking Fernando Rodney to get five outs. That’s exactly what happened, as Rodney allowed just one batter to reach via a walk. The Rays got an insurance run on an Eduardo Nunez error in the top of the ninth.
Rodney’s save was his 43rd of the season. He has an insane 0.66 ERA through 68 innings.
Sabathia won his first start after returning from a brief DL stint last month, but he’s 0-3 with a 4.67 ERA in four starts since. Tonight’s outing was the first in the last five in which he didn’t give up a homer. He’s allowed a career-high 21 homers in 176 innings for the season after allowing 17 homers in 237 1/3 innings last year.
The win leaves the Rays three behind the Yankees in the AL East. They’ll also pick up a game on either Baltimore or Oakland tonight, since those two are playing each other.
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.