Ruben Amaro thinks the Phillies will be contenders if they stay healthy

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Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer profiled Phillies GM Ruben Amaro as his team is about a month away from reporting to Clearwater, Florida for spring training. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a prognosticator willing to bet on the Phillies winning the NL East or even competing for one of the two Wild Card slots, but Amaro believes that if his team can stay healthy for the duration of the 2014 season, the Phillies will be contenders.

“If the club we believe is going to break camp is able to stay on the field, we’re a contending team,” Amaro said. “My job is for us to try to be a contending team every year. Our payroll should allow us to do that. We had a couple of crappy years because we couldn’t get guys on the field and couldn’t get the performances we’re accustomed to.”

Amaro seems to believe that the Phillies’ lack of health over the past two seasons has been bad luck, rather than the result of a poor gamble. But the Phillies last season had the second-oldest group of position players in the National League, averaging an even 30 years old. They had the oldest group in 2012 at 31.1 years old on average as well. He committed a lot of money to Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley despite the contracts taking them into their mid-30’s. While simply approaching 35 doesn’t guarantee an injury, athletes’ bodies tend to deteriorate more rapidly the further they get from their 20’s. If they’re not simply being less productive, they’re more likely to wind up on the disabled list. That’s the risk Amaro took in attaching so much money to an old group of players; it wasn’t bad luck.

That being said, every season those of us in the business of pumping out baseball content on the web heavily overrate at least one team and heavily underrate at least one team. No one expected the Red Sox to win the AL East, let alone win the World Series, this past season. You never know what can happen. Amaro’s optimism about the Phillies isn’t necessarily misplaced.

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.