It was, as baseball endings go, about as predictable as they come. Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera led off the bottom of the ninth with the game tied 5-5. He was 1-for-4 to that point with an RBI single. Entering the night with a .450 on-base percentage, simply reaching with a single or a walk would have sufficed with Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez waiting in line. But Cabrera, as he has done so often over his career and especially lately, took matters into his own hands. Ahead in the count 3-1, Cabrera blasted Royals reliever Aaron Crow’s 96 MPH fastball over the right field fence for a walk-off home run, his 39th long ball of the season.
It was a back-and-forth game all night long, with the Tigers going up 3-0 after two, then the Royals tying the game at three apiece in the fourth, and then with both teams pecking away at each other throughout the rest of the game for a run at a time. Royals starter Wade Davis could not escape the fourth, while the Tigers bullpen could not hold the fort down after starter Doug Fister exited after six innings.
As Orioles first baseman did not homer tonight, Cabrera now trails him by just five home runs, 44-39. Cabrera leads in RBI at 117-113, and in batting average, .358 to Mike Trout’s .331. Cabrera may still win a second consecutive Triple Crown.
With the win, the Tigers bolster their lead over the third-place Royals in the AL Central to 7.5 games.
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.