Mets first baseman Ike Davis attempted to bunt for a base hit in the bottom of the second inning with one out and the bases empty and his team down 1-0. He was facing an infield shift, so his thought was to drop a bunt down the third base line for an easy infield single, but instead, he bunted right back to Braves starter Kris Medlen for the 1-3 putout. The crowd of nearly 25,000 at Citi Field booed Davis as he walked back to the dugout.
Davis is used to the booing, though, and defended his decision to bunt when speaking to the media after the game. Via ESPN’s Adam Rubin:
Power hitters don’t normally bunt, but Davis said he plans to try doing it more this again.
“I mean, I get out a lot anyway, so might as well give it a try,” Davis said, with a wry smile. “If I get it down in the right spot, it’s a hit. I’m definitely gonna try to do that more often.”
“Ike’s just trying to get on base,” Collins said. “And I will tell you, he’s gonna see [the shift] again, and if you wanna bunt, go ahead and bunt.”
Davis has had an awful season. Tonight’s 1-for-4 performance actually bumped his batting average up to .178 but his OPS is still a disappointing .531. The only players in baseball with a worse OPS (min. 200 plate appearances) are Brendan Ryan of the Mariners (.521) and teammate Ruben Tejada (.529).
Davis was demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas after going 0-for-3 on June 9. In 21 games under 51s manager Wally Backman, Davis hit .293 with a 1.091 OPS. He was recalled after going 3-for-4 on July 3. Between his return to the Majors on July 5 and prior to today’s game, Davis posted a .257/.381/.286 line. The on-base percentage is nice, but a .286 slugging percentage is far below what is expected even from a below-average first baseman (the average first baseman in the NL has slugged .415). Bunting isn’t going to help that.
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.