Don Mattingly was never a showboat as a player. He was about as straight shooting, business-is-business kinds of guys out there. As a manager he still is. I mean, you don’t get the nickname Donnie Baseball for nothing. He’s the epitome of a “baseball guy,” which is a descriptor most people around the game use to describe people who take the game seriously and never ruffle people’s feathers.
But he has a supreme feather-ruffler playing for him in Yasiel Puig. And he’s well-aware of another feather-ruffler in Carlos Gomez. And over the weekend he said something which a lot of other baseball guys should probably listen to: relax, fellas:
“Guys play with emotion, and that can get on your nerves,” said Mattingly. “Gomez plays with a lot of fire, and it rubs people the wrong way. Every team has guys that bug you. It’s just the way it is. Puig is a guy on our team, he draws as much attention as anybody. But it’s a little silly. You can still be respectful of your opponent and carry yourself with class.
“I do think we have to loosen up a bit or there will be more and more times that guys take offense. I’m not talking about the Giants. It’s all around baseball.”
Sure, he’s obviously defending his own guy here, as these comments came the day after Puig and Madison Bumgarner jawed at each other when Bumgarner took offense at a Puig bat flip. But including Gomez in it too suggests that this is something Mattingly believes even when it doesn’t apply just to a Dodgers player.
And he’s right. Looking to take offense at even the most insignificant of deviations from baseball’s conventions of formality is “all around baseball.” I have no idea whether that strain of no-fun-allowed thinking has increased or if it has merely been flushed out into the open by a couple of flamboyant players, but it’s such a drag.
And if someone as conventional as Don Mattingly is saying it, it’s probably worth listening to.
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.