Orioles optimistic about re-signing Nate McLouth

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We heard a report earlier this week linking the Orioles to both Josh Hamilton and Cody Ross as potential options for left field next year, but the club is currently focused on keeping one of their surprising late-season contributors.

Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles continue to pursue free agent outfielder Nate McLouth. The two sides have maintained dialogue since the 31-year-old hit the open market last week and two industry sources told Connolly yesterday that the Orioles are “still optimistic” about re-signing him.

McLouth’s future as a big leaguer was in doubt after he was released by the Pirates in late May, but he latched on with the Orioles just a few days later and was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk. He didn’t end up joining the big club until August, but he played a major role down the stretch, hitting .268/.342/.435 with seven home runs, 18 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .777 OPS in 236 plate appearances. His hot-hitting continued during the postseason, as he batted .308 (8-for-26) with two home runs, five RBI and three stolen bases in five games.

There’s danger in putting too much stock in the small sample size of success, as McLouth could revert to the same player who batted .203/.312/.313 from 2010 to when he was released by the Pirates this year, but he has certainly played his way into another guaranteed major league contract.

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.