Rangers castoff Darren O’Day comes up huge for Orioles

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A workhorse submariner who often pitched a couple or three innings at a time, Darren O’Day had a 2.78 ERA in his final three seasons at the University of Florida. And it’s not like he went unnoticed while amassing a 0.87 ERA in 10 1/3 innings before the Gators lost in the finals of the College World Series in 2005.

Still, O’Day wasn’t among the 1,500 or so players chosen in the 2006 draft after wrapping up his collegiate career. He signed with the Angels for next to nothing and then promptly went about working his way up to the majors, pitching at five levels over the next two years before debuting with the Halos in 2008. He wasn’t a huge success, but he hardly embarrassed himself by posting a 4.57 ERA in 43 1/3 innings.

Unfortunately, O’Day was diagnosed with a torn labrum at season’s end. The Angels, thinking he wouldn’t contribute in 2009, dropped him from the 40-man roster. He went unclaimed on waivers, but then the Mets grabbed him in the Rule 5 draft in Dec. 2008. He made the team after rehabbing his shoulder, only to be jettisoned after allowing two unearned runs in three innings.

That’s when the Rangers stepped in and grabbed O’Day off waivers. He gave Texas two great seasons, finishing with a 1.94 ERA in 55 2/3 innings in 2009 and a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings in 2010.

Still, O’Day never stopped being viewed as a fringe talent. After hip and shoulder injuries limited him to 16 appearances in 2011, the Rangers waived him rather than commit $1.2 million-$1.5 million to him for 2012. The Orioles picked him up, signed him for $1.35 million and then watched him amass a 7-1 record and a 2.28 ERA in 67 innings as a middle reliever.

On Friday, he pitched two scoreless innings in the wild card win over Texas. The only hitter to reach against him did so on an infield single.

Because he throws in the mid-80s and relies so much on deception, O’Day may well always be one of those guys who is three bad weeks away from the waiver wire. But at least he doesn’t have to worry about that right now. Barring a late injury here, he’ll probably be brought back for $2 million-$2.5 million next year, easily his biggest payday yet.

So, let’s hear it for O’Day, a guy appreciated by neither scout nor computer after college. Up to this point, he’s had a better career than all but six or seven guys picked in the first round of what was actually a pretty strong draft in 2006, and only next season will his career earnings surpass the signing bonus that No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar got from the Royals that year.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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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.