At the end of the regular season, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon attended a wrap-up press conference during which they were asked about the promise outfielder Michael Saunders showed despite suffering from injuries which limited his playing time. Zduriencik suggested that Saunders could do more to improve his durability, while McClendon said Saunders could spend more time in the weight room.
Zduriencik went on several different radio stations later that day. On KJR, Dave Mahler asked him about Saunders. Zduriencik doubled down, reiterating that Saunders could be doing more to allow himself the physical capability to play a full season.
That didn’t sit well with Saunders or his agent, Mike McCann. Saunders didn’t directly speak about the issue, but Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times said the outfielder had “obvious frustration in his voice”. McCann, on the other hand, had plenty to say:
“It was shocking to hear that,” McCann said. “The first time I heard that was the day of the presser. And Michael was never told that there is something that needed to be changed. If there was, Michael Saunders would do it. These comments don’t reflect Michael Saunders’ work habits. They imply that that he’s lackadaisical.”
McCann also expressed disappointment that Zduriencik publicly criticized Saunders, and added that Zduriencik has yet to have a direct conversation with Saunders.
In 263 plate appearances during the regular season, Saunders hit .273/.341/.450 with eight home runs and 34 RBI. It was easily the most productive the 27-year-old had been at the plate since making his major league debut in 2009. However, Saunders made two trips to the disabled list. The first stretched from mid- to late-June due to inflammation of the A/C joint in his right shoulder. The second caused him to miss 50 games due to a strained left oblique.
Saunders earned $2.3 million during the 2014 season and is eligible for arbitration for the second of three years. Divish suggests it’s unlikely the Mariners try to move Saunders since they have him under control for two more years and the club lacks outfield depth. But one has to wonder that if an offer comes along, which would allow the Mariners to improve the team elsewhere, they would seize the opportunity to turn the page.
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.