Benched yesterday for a fourth straight game, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp told Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times: “I just want to play, man.”
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has been mixing and matching outfielders all season because he has Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier to play and only three spots in which to play them, but Kemp is the first guy in that group to sit out four consecutive games.
He’s definitely been benched and Mattingly has cited his poor defense in center field as a big reason, although there’s always the option of shifting Kemp to a corner spot to keep his bat in the lineup considering he has a higher OPS than Crawford or Ethier. And of course the fact that Kemp has a $160 million contract further complicates matters.
It sounds like Crawford and Kemp may form a quasi-platoon in left field, which is a helluva way to spend $300 million. And in the meantime Ethier is Mattingly’s choice to start in center field despite the fact that he’s very stretched defensively there. Sometimes having tons of money and tons of outfielders isn’t such a good thing.
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.