The Braves may be moving into a new stadium soon, but with the Phillies’ latest 25-year, $2.5 billion TV deal with Comcast SportsNet, Grant Brisbee of SB Nation argues that the Braves have more in common with the Rays than the rival Phillies, Mets, and Nationals.
Brisbee notes that in 2000, the Braves had the third-highest payroll among all 30 teams at $86 million. They stayed in the top-ten through 2006, but have had the 15th or 16th highest payroll in each of the past four seasons, hovering between $84 and $90 million. Their current TV deal, to compare to that of the Phillies, will give them between $200 and $400 million over 20 years. Even in a vain attempt to put lipstick on a pig, Braves CEO Terry McGuirk admitted the team’s TV deal is bad:
“We have a long-term, 20-year deal. It is what it is. It was a deal that we didn’t like when we saw it, when we inherited it. And we knew that in the performance of time, it would probably not be the deal that we would like to have in the marketplace to exploit…. It’s not the only lever and dial we have to pull and turn to make this thing work, and we just have to be a little bit better in a bunch of other areas. And I think we are.”
If the Braves had more payroll flexibility, they may not have lost catcher Brian McCann to free agency and they may have been able to replace Tim Hudson with someone better than Gavin Floyd. They could happily sign Freddie Freeman to a contract extension to buy out his three years of arbitration eligibility and a year or two of free agency. If they so desired, they could do the same with Kris Medlen, Craig Kimbrel, and eventually Andrelton Simmons as well. But, as McGuirk says, they will instead have to be “a little bit better in a bunch of other areas”, just like the Rays. To their credit, they certainly have been, developing a ton of Major League-quality talent over the years.
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.