Today was decision day for the Rangers, as manager Ron Washington made some important calls about the composition of his pitching staff. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that Washington will put Tanner Scheppers in the rotation and transition Alexi Ogando into a set-up role. In turn, he has opted for Joakim Soria over Neftali Feliz for the closer role.
Scheppers entered spring training as a long shot to secure a rotation spot, but injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison and a poor spring from Ogando opened the door. The 27-year-old right-hander has also pitched well during Cactus League play, posting a 3.07 ERA and 14/4 K/BB ratio over 14 2/3 innings. This includes an impressive outing yesterday. Scheppers, who had a a 1.88 ERA in 76 2/3 innings out of the Rangers bullpen last season, has only made 12 starts in pro ball, all of them in the minors. Despite the inexperience, the Rangers are willing to experiment.
Feliz was considered the early favorite to replace Joe Nathan at closer, but he has shown diminished velocity this spring while allowing four runs on 11 hits and one walk over eight innings. Meanwhile, Soria has allowed just two baserunners over six scoreless innings. Washington said that Feliz’s role is yet to be determined and that he’s still competing for a job.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.