Free agent infielder/outfielder Kelly Johnson is reportedly receiving interest from a number of teams, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. That list includes the Blue Jays, Reds and Braves, though none of them appear willing to meet Johnson’s only criterion: that he receive a major league deal for 2017.
That isn’t a tall order for the 35-year-old, who has proven his mettle during seven different major league gigs over the last three years. He split his 2016 season between the Braves and Mets, slashing a cumulative .247/.306/.391 with 10 home runs and a .698 OPS in 333 PA. While he’s unlikely to secure a starting role this late in the year, he profiles well as a left-handed bat and could provide some depth at second and third base (or the outfield corners, in a pinch) for a team with limited options.
Should Johnson relent and accept a non-roster invite, he could compete for a backup role among a slew of Reds’ bench candidates. Ryan Raburn and Desmond Jennings are the frontrunners in that category, though neither has impressed at the plate during spring training so far. Alternatively, Johnson could give the Blue Jays some injury insurance while Josh Donaldson works his way back to third base or, failing that, accept a fourth stint with the Braves alongside fellow utility man Jace Peterson. In any case, a major league deal looks like a long shot with just over two weeks left before Opening Day.
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.