Future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones just wrapped up one of the better final seasons in major league history, hitting .287/.377/.455 with 14 homers and 62 RBI at age 40.
Unfortunately, the all-too-brief postseason wasn’t nearly as kind. Jones botched a double-play ball, contributing to a three-run fourth inning, and went 1-for-5 at the plate as the Braves lost 6-3 to the Cardinals on Friday.
For Chipper, it has to be a painful way to end his career. He was up as the tying run in the bottom of the seventh, yet he grounded out on the first pitch he saw from Marc Rzepczynski. He did get one more chance in the ninth, and he was able to reach on an infield single after fighting off some quality fastballs from closer Jason Motte. He was stranded from there and then walked off the field as Braves fans started hurling trash again.
Of course, this was hardly all on Chipper. Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons also made key errors. Outside of catcher David Ross and maybe Freddie Freeman, no Brave had an outstanding game.
Still, as great as Chipper Jones’ career was — and he ranks as one of the game’s three best switch-hitters of all-time — he bares some responsibility for the Braves’ playoff struggles over the last decade. If tonight’s one-gamer counts as a “series,” then Chipper was on the losing side of the last six postseason series in which he played. His last great postseason series was the 2001 NLDS against the Astros, when he hit two homers in a three-game sweep. In 25 postseason games since, he hit .219 with three homers and 12 RBI in 96 at-bats.
Jones shouldn’t head into retirement with many regrets, but there can be no doubt that he’d love to have that one throw and the seventh-inning at-bat back tonight.
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.