The Team Italy-Athletics game just ended. The A’s won 4-3, with the final out coming when an Italian player was gunned down at the plate. Not too bad for a split squad major league team playing a WBC underdog.
I spoke with Anthony Rizzo on the field after the game. Rizzo hit a long homer off the scoreboard in right-center, which looked like it could have gone 50 more feet if it needed to. While Rizzo will likely be back with the Cubs next week or so, he’s relishing his time with Team Italy.
“Our goal is San Francisco,” Rizzo said when asked what he hopes to get out of the WBC. Referring, of course, to the WBC final. When asked if that was realistic he said “Absolutely. Anything is possible.” I wonder if he’d say that in a candid environment, but he seemed sincere in the moment. No, Team Italy is not expected to do much here, but Rizzo is certainly in the head space of a player who is playing meaningful games right now.
He said as much, noting that it’s nice to play games that matter. Which, having talked to a lot of players this past week, I think is something most of them crave. Spring Training is a time of renewal and all of that, but after a week or so, it also becomes a bit of a slog for some of these guys. Rizzo may not have as strong a connection to Team Italy as he does the Chicago Cubs, but the few WBC games he plays will have a greater sense of urgency and purpose to them than Cubs exhibitions, and I can imagine how appealing that is to these guys right now.
Oh, final note: I asked Rizzo how he liked being called “Anthony RIT-tso” by the P.A. announcer (and his name is phonetically-spelled that way in the press materials). He rather digs it. He said it a couple of times, rolling it off his tongue.
“I think I’ll enjoy that this week,” he said.
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.