How umpire Angel Hernandez affected the AL side of the post-season

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At ESPN Sweet Spot, David Schoenfield reminds us of a controversial, and wrong, call made by umpire Angel Hernandez that we now know has had a tangible impact on the AL side of the post-season.

On May 8, the Indians played host to the Athletics at Progressive Field. They led 4-3 with two outs in the top of the ninth and closer Chris Perez was ready to nail down another save. Shortstop Adam Rosales hit a fly ball to deep left-center and it appeared to hit off of a metal railing above the yellow line atop the fence, but Hernandez ruled it a double. The umpires conferred, left the field to review the tape, and did not overturn their incorrect call. The Athletics couldn’t get Rosales home and the Indians won 4-3.

We now know the Indians earned top billing in the AL Wild Card game with a 5-1 victory this afternoon. Acknowledging the butterfly effect, all other things being equal, the Indians would have entered today’s action tied with the Rays and Rangers for the two Wild Card spots rather than having control of the first spot by one game. Their victory today, along with those by the Rays and Rangers, would have sent the three teams into two extra games to decide the winners rather than one, and the Indians might not have been hosting at home.

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.