The Athletics entered the weekend’s three-game set with the Blue Jays the proud owners of baseball’s best offense, averaging 5.2 runs per game. They had no idea they were about to run into a Canadian buzzsaw. The Jays, behind starters Liam Hendriks, R.A. Dickey, and J.A. Happ, held the A’s to five runs over three games including Sunday’s 3-1 victory to complete a series sweep.
If you haven’t been paying close attention, the Jays snuck into first place in the AL East after Wednesday’s win over the Red Sox and maintain their two-game edge over the second-place Yankees. The Jays have won 11 of their last 13 games. Edwin Encarnacion has been on absolute fire, blasting 12 home runs in the month of May, including six in his last seven games. His slash line is up to .254/.332/.553. Starter Mark Buehrle is 8-1 with a 2.16 ERA. Jose Bautista has 12 home runs and a .965 OPS. Dickey has turned in seven consecutive quality starts. Casey Janssen is 7-for-7 in save chances since making his season debut on May 12 after spending six weeks on the disabled list.
We don’t know if the Jays can keep playing at this level. After all, on this date last season, the Dodgers were 20-27 in last place and six games out of first place in the NL West. A lot can change between now and the end of the regular season. But as of right now, the Jays are certainly starting to draw some attention and respect, rightfully so.
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.