Rafael Palmeiro is probably going to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot this year

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Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun asks whether Rafael Palmeiro is going to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot. And he lands where I land: probably.

As Connolly notes, Palmeiro’s support in his three years on the ballot is not trending in a good direction for him. In his first year of eligibility he was named on 11 percent of the ballots. In his second he actually ticked up to 12.6 percent. Last year, however, he was down to 8.8 percent. And this year at least three likely inductees — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas — join the ballot. Even those voters sympathetic to Mr. Palmeiro are going to run out of room on their ballots eventually, and my guess is that he’ll fall below the 5 percent requirement to stay on following this year’s vote.

Which will be kinda weird for a guy who finished above 500 homers and 3,000 hits while playing a nifty first base before switching to DH. But two forces are conspiring to, quite understandably, shove him off the ballot.

The first one is obvious. Palmeiro was the first famous flunker of a PED test. While that may not one day be the Hall of Fame Death sentence it is today, being a trailblazer in this department is not a good thing, and that would be the case even if he didn’t wag his finger at Congress while proclaiming he was clean just prior to failing the drug test.

But the second reason is just as significant: PEDs aside, Palmeiro doesn’t necessarily profile as a fantastic Hall of Fame candidate compared to his peers.

Yes, he has the big numbers, and I think absent the PED stuff no one would be arguing that they weren’t Hall of Fame worthy. But think about how stacked first base was during his career. Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas were clearly better. Mark McGwire was more famous and, in the minds of most, better. Palmeiro made just four All-Star teams and finished in the top 5 in MVP balloting just once. That’s still a heck of a career, but it speaks to a guy who wasn’t thought of as the best or even one of the handful of best players in the league most of his career. Add in his mostly hitter-friendly home ballparks and you could construct an argument that his numbers were more inflated by the era in which he played than a lot of guys.

I’m not saying it’s a strong argument. Looking at Palmeiro’s splits you see that he wasn’t as aided by those hitter-friendly parks in Texas and Baltimore as you might first suspect. And while he didn’t have the top-five finishes he had several top-10s. And while he wouldn’t be in the top half of all of the first basemen ever inducted into the Hall of Fame based on the numbers, he wouldn’t be the worst first basemen ever inducted either.

So, not a slam dunk no for Palmeiro, but it’s enough of an argument where, even if you don’t think that a positive PED test disqualifies someone from Hall of Fame consideration, you can say that in a tough balloting environment he’s one of the guys who don’t make your 10-player cut, 500 homers and 3,000 hits or not. In my Hall of Fame list he doesn’t make the top 10, even if I would have him in the Hall of Fame in an ideal world. And if we play the “this guy should go in before that guy” game Bagwell, Thomas and McGwire all seem like better first base choices than does Palmeiro.

Just a perfect storm blowing in Palmerio’s face, really. And because of it this will likely be the last year that Hall of Fame voters get a chance to consider his likely doomed candidacy.

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.