HBT favorite Jeff Francoeur was released by the Indians in spring training and was picked up on a minor league deal by the Padres. He’s been playing at El Paso all season and he’s hitting a Francoeurian .277 with a low OBP and some decent pop. It’s what he’s always done, really, and given that his parent club has a pretty lackluster offense, it wouldn’t be shocking if he was patrolling right field in San Diego sometime this season.
But for now, he’s making the most of it. And part of making the most of it is as El Paso’s mopup man. He’s pitched five and a third innings over six appearances, allowing four hits and three earned runs with three walks and four strikeouts. Not great, but not nothing. He is said to have a fastball in the low 90s and a serviceable slider.
That all comes in this excellent New York Times story by Tyler Kepner, who features both Francoeur and former major leaguer Jason Lane. Himself an outfielder at one time but now a full-time pitcher and frequent pinch hitter. The angle on the story is how Francoeur is pitching for fun and Lane is pitching for his career. Or at least to prolong it. There are some good observations in there too about how, in this day of 13-man pitching staffs and very thin major league benches, a swingman like Lane or possibly even Francoeur could become less of a novelty and might actually serve a useful purpose on a big league club.
Great story. Check it out.
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.