Breaking: Dusty Baker is out as Reds manager. The Associated Press had the first reports, and then the always reliable John Fay confirmed:
We did not see this coming. Especially given that, just two days ago, Reds GM Walt Jocketty said that he did not think that there was any question that Baker would be back given that he was under contract through 2014. My guess: this was an ownership call.
Baker was 509-463 in six years as the Reds manager. He led them to two NL Central titles and, with this year’s wild card, he took them to the playoffs three times. But Baker’s performance in the playoffs has been harshly criticized by some in Cincinnati, and the Reds have yet to win a playoff series under him. They are 2-7 in the playoffs in that time. Of course the team had missed the playoffs for a dozen years running before he got there.
For Baker, you wonder if this is the end of the managing road. On the one hand, he obviously still knows what he’s doing, continues to maintain the confidence of his players and, based on the fact that the Reds have won 90+ games in three of the past four years, he’s obviously effective. On the other hand he’s 64 years-old and you wonder if he wants to start anew someplace else.
For everyone else: another plum manager’s job is open. Both Washington and Cincinnati are ready-made “win now” jobs that should attract a number of good candidates.
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.