Tying to find that elusive team chemistry

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From Paul White in USA Today, a story about teams wanting good chemistry. To the point where, just maybe, they’re willing to sacrifice production to get it. Whatever “it” is:

 The code words for this quality can vary by clubhouse.

Indians manager Terry Francona uses “atmosphere” to describe what he wants Giambi to help establish. The Arizona Diamondbacks re-made their roster this offseason and the buzzword around the team is “grit.”

It also goes by “chemistry” and “culture.” And it’s sought by organizations as varied as the Tampa Bay Rays, who see their no-rules clubhouse as a crucial piece of their formula , and the New York Yankees, who depend on the Derek Jeter and others to foster nearly a century of tradition the franchise values as a distinct advantage.

Whatever “it’ is requires an all-in approach from clubhouse inhabitants.

I don’t quibble at all with the notion that, all things being equal, people work better in good environments with people they like than they would in a bad environment with those people. All things aren’t equal, of course, and even though no one is claiming you can quantify that good team mojo, I hope that everyone would agree that a significant talent discrepancy between clubs with bad and good chemistry is more than made up for with the talent.

I think this article itself bears that out, using as it does Jason Giambi’s travels as an example. He played for winning teams in Oakland, which had no rules in the clubhouse and “a frat house atmosphere.” He played for winning teams in New York that were all business and no nonsense. He played for a winning Colorado team that likely fell in between. So too is it the case across baseball. There have probably been just as many “25 players/25 cabs” kinds of teams that have won as there have been teams with “good chemistry,” however that’s defined.

None of which means that wanting that good chemistry is wrong. Jeez, think about anywhere you’ve ever worked and ask yourself whether you would have preferred it if everyone got along really well.  It’s just that I think, always and forever, there will be a much stronger correlation between teams with talent and winning than there will be with teams with “good chemistry” and winning, and that’s the case no matter how defines that term.

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.