I wondered yesterday whether not calling up Mike Trout until April 28 cost the Angels a playoff spot and while it’s obviously impossible to say for certain the numbers certainly suggest that it could have.
Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com asked general manager Jerry Dipoto that very question last night, and he downplayed any regret about the delayed call-up and also explained the Angels’ thought process with Trout:
I don’t know how much sooner we could’ve called him up. I mean, Mike had no spring training at all. Essentially, if you look at spring training, even the game portion of spring training is a month-long exercise. We didn’t even give him that long. He had enough time to go down and get his timing, hit .420-something and then pop up and be the best player around. I have not lost sleep thinking about that, about the idea that we didn’t call him up soon enough.
Dipoto is referring to the fact that Trout missed much of spring training with the flu and a minor shoulder injury, which is a factor I included in yesterday’s post. However, it’s worth noting that Trout was healthy enough to immediately hit .403 in 20 games against Triple-A pitching once the real games started.
Ultimately when a team misses the playoffs by 2-3 games there are a dozen things you can point to as “reasons” why and for the Angels this season Trout is merely one of them, but when arguably the best all-around player in baseball spent the first 20 games of the season in the minor leagues and the team that missed the playoffs by 2-3 games got off to a 6-14 start without him … well, it’s natural to wonder about that specific reason.
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.