Some sad news: former Dodgers and Athletics pitcher Bob Welch died today. He was 57-years-old. No cause of death has yet been reported.
Welch debuted for the Dodgers in 1978. He made national fame when he struck out Reggie Jackson with two on and two out in the top of the ninth inning to end Game 2 of the 1978 World Series, giving the Dodgers a two games to zero lead. Welch was just 21 at the time and Jackson was a year removed from his three-homer performance against the Dodgers in the 1977 Series. It was a big deal.
If Welch had done nothing else in his career he’d probably still be remembered for that. But of course he did much. He won 211 games over 17 seasons, starting 462 of his 506 games. He was a reliable and often very good rotation starter for some very good Dodgers teams. He moved upstate to Oakland for the 1988 season and on through the rest of his career, which ended when the 1994-95 strike began.
His best season is one everyone remembers: 1990, when he went 27-6 for the AL Champion Athletics, winning the Cy Young Award. It stands as the most wins since Steve Carlton won 27 in 1972. The last time anyone won more was when Denny McLain won 31 in 1968. No pitcher has won as many as 25 since Welch did it in 1990. Welch ended his career with a record of 211-146 and an ERA of 3.47. He struck out 1,969 batters and walked 1,034 in 3,092 innings. He had 28 shutouts and 61 career complete games.
Welch wrote a book after he retired about his battles with alcoholism during his career and was always frank about how it nearly derailed that career in the 1980s. He was the pitching coach for the Arizona State Sun Devils and then, for one year, coached the pitchers for the Diamondbacks when they won the World Series in 2001. He remained in Arizona in various coaching, scouting and advising capacities over the past several years.
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.