According to Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Reds are unlikely to land Cuban outfielder Luis Robert when he becomes eligible to sign with a major league team on Saturday. Comments from Reds’ GM Dick Williams suggest that Robert could command a price far above what the club is able to pay. Not only will the 19-year-old outfielder’s speed and power attract a sizable contract, but any interested team that previously exceeded their international spending limit will be forced to kick in a 100% penalty on whatever bonus Robert receives. That includes the Reds, who blew past their limit last year after inking shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez to a $7 million deal and paid the 100% penalty when they signed right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez several months later.
Robert has garnered substantial interest around the league and appears to be in line for a heftier contract than those of fellow Cuban stars Rodriguez and Gutierrez. Recent reports from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, among others, list the Astros, Athletics and Padres as other potential suitors, with the White Sox and Cardinals looking like notable frontrunners. Passan cites unnamed sources who claim Robert has already chosen a landing spot and is just biding his time until the deal becomes official on Saturday.
With the increasingly restrictive measures of the collective bargaining agreement curtailing the amount teams can spend on international talent, Robert figures to rake in the last significant payday for Cuban players. That makes things difficult for the Reds, who would have had to drop something like $20 million upfront just to see whether Robert’s elite tools survive the transition to the majors. Per Buchanan:
We saw a player we liked and were willing to go to a certain amount for him if we can get him,” Williams said. “There’s a certain amount beyond which a franchise in our market just can’t afford.
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.