Yesterday the New York Daily News reported that A-Rod and Major League Baseball were discussing a plea deal that would land him a 150-game suspension in lieu of gambling over a potential lifetime ban in the event he took an appeal of any Biogenesis-related discipline to arbitration. The report described a shaken A-Rod following his meeting with Major League Baseball on Friday.
Later in the day, however, his team denied the report:
We’re into he-said, he-said land. Or he-said, he-didn’t-say. It’s pretty impossible to know what’s really going on here given all of the agendas at play. MLB is obviously getting tough and is trying to send messages, but they also want to be seen being tough and sending a message, so it may lend itself to leaks and reports that aren’t exactly on the mark. Meanwhile, A-Rod and other players want to defend themselves — and to be seen as defending themselves so that maybe players don’t think they’re wavering — but they could still be trying to mitigate the fallout if MLB’s case against them is strong.
The most significant thing about plea deal talk? The idea that there can be plea deals in the context of a drug testing/punishment regime that is supposed to be an exercise in zero-tolerance and mechanical justice. A program that isn’t supposed to be about negotiation and leverage because such things introduce uncertainty into a program that isn’t supposed to carry any, by design.
Maybe the unique circumstances of the Biogenesis case necessitate that. But I feel like baseball’s drug program is going to be permanently affected by what transpires before this is all said and done.
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.