Craig Kimbrel passes John Smoltz for save record with Braves

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Craig Kimbrel recorded four outs against the Diamondbacks last night at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona to finish off a 5-2 victory for the Braves. This particular save had a little more meaning than usual, as it was the 155th of his career, surpassing John Smoltz for the franchise record.

You can watch Kimbrel’s appearance below:

Smoltz established the previous record during his stint in the bullpen from 2001-2004. Kimbrel has only been in the majors since 2010, so it didn’t take him long to vault to the top of the list. He saved one game during his rookie season, 46 in 2011, 42 in 2012, 50 last season, and 16 so far this year. Still just 26 years old, he figures to take aim at the likes of Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera on MLB’s all-time saves list if he can remain healthy.

Kimbrel has compiled a 1.41 ERA and 419 strikeouts over his first 254 appearances in the majors. He owns the lowest ERA and strikeout rate (15.14 K/9) in MLB history among pitchers with at least 240 innings pitched. Saves are often a function of good teams, so Kimbrel has been fortunate on that end, but he has had a historic start to his career.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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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.