Ken Rosenthal is reporting that a potential blockbuster is brewing. Specifically, a mutli-team, multi-player trade that could involve Arizona, Cleveland, Texas and Tampa Bay with Justin Upton, James Shields and Asdrubal Cabrera being the biggest names involved.
Rosenthal — while cautioning that a deal is not imminent or even particularly likely at the moment — reports that one iteration of the trade would have Justin Upton heading to Texas, Asdrubal Cabrera to Arizona and the Indians getting “a package of young talent,” which could include the Rangers’ Mike Olt.
On paper this makes sense in that the Rangers — who are still mulling signing Josh Hamilton — want a bat, the Diamondbacks want a shortstop for Upton and the Indians need prospects. Versions of the trade Rosenthal is hearing that include the Rays have James Shields being shipped out in exchange for a bat. He also says that simple two-team trades could easily spin out of this. It’s all very fluid, it seems.
But even if a monster deal like this doesn’t happen — and Rosenthal cautions that the odds are against it due to its difficulty — the mere fact that such talks are going down is instructive. Indeed, its evidence that the ability of teams to simply go out and sign what they need has been greatly curtailed due to a much more sparse free agent market thanks to teams locking up their core players at younger and younger ages. The Rangers can’t simply add a reasonably-priced bat. The Diamondbacks can’t simply sign a starting shortstop. Creativity is required.
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.