Jordany Valdespin’s first homer of 2013 was memorable; he delivered a grand slam off Josh Wall in the bottom of the 10th to give the Mets a 7-3 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday.
It was the second walkoff slam of the year, with Baltimore’s Matt Wieters collecting the other.
Valdespin, who earlier entered the game as a pinch-hitter, got his chance to play hero after David Wright singled in Mike Baxter to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. That gave Dodgers closer Brandon League his first blown save.
The homer was Valdespin’s ninth in 233 major league at-bats. He’s started just seven games for the Mets this season, as manager Terry Collins hasn’t quite figured out how best to use him yet. Valdespin, primarily a second baseman in the minors, opened the spring playing only the infield. However, during April, he’s made all of his starts in the outfield and has yet to play an inning in the infield.
For the Dodgers, it was a tough loss, yet it came with a couple of encouraging signs. Ted Lilly, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since shoulder surgery last May, held the Mets to one run over five innings in his 2013 debut. Also, the struggling Matt Kemp hit his first homer, a two-run shot off Matt Harvey. It was just the second homer surrendered by Harvey this season.
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.