The Rays new first baseman, CJ Cron. (Photo Credit: Halos Heaven)

In a series of rather interesting moves Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Rays scratched roughly $11.2-million from their books — a figure that could jump to $12.25-million if another team claims Corey Dickerson or makes a trade for his services — and bolstered first base.

Rays GM Erik Neander defended the his decisions, the details of which follow, suggesting a twofold necessity:

  1. To abide by Stu Sternberg’s directive to reduce payroll.
  2. To provide some clarity to the players before full-squad workouts begin on Monday.

You just don’t want a cloud of uncertainty hanging over our group, Neander said. It was time to move forward.

Rays deal Jake Odorizzi to Minnesota for peanuts

The most oft-speculated upon, and frankly expected, deal sent number two starter Jake Odorizzi — who just won a $6.35-million salary in arbitration — to Minnesota for Class-A shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios.

Minnesota had been connected to virtually every available pitcher in baseball, both on the trade and free agent fronts this offseason, and the Twins might have landed an arm that could be on the mound come Opening Day. Yet after discussing myriad trade scenarios, they allegedly felt the best they could do was deal Odorizzi — who is coming off a 10-8, 4.14 ERA injury marred season — for Palacios and/or Dippin’ Dots (choose your own adventure).

Mark Polishuck (MLB Trade Rumors) wrote about Palacios, the Twins fourth-best shortstop prospect:

…Palacios is a fairly lightly-regarded prospect within Minnesota’s farm system.  ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the infielder 24th on his list of Twins prospects, with rating Palacios 27th amongst Minnesota farmhands.  The 21-year-old Venezuela native was signed in 2013 and he has a .290/.345/.426 slash line over 1303 pro plate appearances, 263 of those PA coming at high-A ball last season.’s scouting report described him as “an offensive-minded middle infielder whose bat is a little bit ahead of his glove….He has some potential at the plate to hit for average and good extra-base pop.”  Palacios’s defense got solid reviews, though the assumption was that he would eventually have to change positions due to the number of other good shortstops ahead of him in the Twins’ system; the same could be true for him in Tampa given Willy Adames’ rep as the Rays’ shortstop of the future.

Neander said they like Palacios’ all around offensive and defensive tools, as well as his makeup.

(The Rays) probably have him valued quite a bit higher than some of the public publications.

Yet Neander also conceded that allowing Odorizzi to slip away for practically nothing had more to do with the timing than it had with putting together an equitable trade.

It’s February 17 and we’ve been at this all winter, trying to be as knowledgeable with the market, as knowledgeable as possible what teams are trying to do and where they’re at, Neander said. This is the reality of where we are. There comes a point in time where you have to make some decisions and you have to move things forward. …. We felt this was the best time to do it and the best offer in hand.

Even without Odorizzi, the Rays still have considerable depth and options in their rotation, lining up southpaw Blake Snell, and right-handers Nathan Eovaldi, Jake Faria and Matt Andriese behind Chris Archer. The team also has prospects Brent Honeywell, Jose De Leon, Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough waiting in the wings.

All-Star Corey Dickerson is designated for assignment

The most shocking move was designating 2017 All-Star DH Corey Dickerson for assignment.

Unable to find any suitors for Dickerson the Rays opted to DFA the outfielder to make clear that he was not in their plans. Moreover, while the Rays have been shopping Dickerson for much of the offseason, the team clearly could not find any takers.

Obviously not a common move to do something like this, but we’ve had enough conversations that we felt this was the best way to get things resolved for him and for us, Neander said. With the conversations that are ongoing with Dickerson we felt this was the best way to go.

If Neander and company cannot bring any residual trade talks to a conclusion over the next 10-days, another ball club could simply claim Dickerson without having to give up anything in return. In that case Tampa Bay would be on the hook for one-sixth of Dickerson’s $5.95-million salary (roughly $1-million) in termination pay. The Rays also stand to lose whatever trade leverage they may have, as it will be possible for any interested teams to wait things out over the next 10-days, then swoop in with the hopes of signing Dickerson to a cheaper contract.

Dickerson slashed .282 BA/.325 OBP/.490 SLG/.915 OPS last season with 27 homers over 629 PA, although the bulk of that damage came in the first half of the season, resulting in an All-Star Game appearance. To contrast both halves of Dickerson’s 2017 campaign, the OF/DH posted a .903 OPS and an AL high .330 BA in 370 PA before the All-Star Break, yet managed just a .690 OPS and a a .241 BA in 259 PA after. Still Dickerson performed to a 2.6 fWAR last season, and posted respectable defensive numbers in left field — +4.5 UZR/150, -1 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS).

The Rays clearly considered Dickerson to be more expendable than Denard Span and Brad Miller — neither of whom have any presumed trade value — since they have three other left-handed hitting outfielders in Kevin Kiermaier, Mallex Smith and Span, who now appears likely to stay.

As Ian Malinowski (DRaysBay) described the rather distressing decision, productive players on affordable salaries with years of team control remaining do not get designated for assignment. Then again, the choice would make more sense if Dickerson was to be traded for a worthwhile player over the next 10-days.

Rays acquire first-baseman C.J. Cron

The most intriguing move by Neander happens to be the acquisition of right-handed hitting first baseman C.J. Cron from the Los Angeles Angels, for a player to be named later. The move presumably gives the team a more balanced lineup. Cron is under team control until 2021, and is projected to earn $2.3-million in 2018

Cron hit .248 BA/.742 OPS with a career-high matching 16 home runs and 56 RBI in 100 games last season, all at first base. And over his four big league seasons, the infielder has slashed .262 BA/.307 OBP/.449 SLG/.756 OPS with 59 homers in 1475 career plate appearances.

Yet Cron hasn’t shown the ability to hit southpaws well, and because of it he could be considered a reverse-splits hitter from the right side of the plate; Cron is a career .772 OPS against right-handers and only a .716 OPS against southpaws. It is likely that he will be a first base and DH platoon partner with Miller.

Malinowski took a look at the Rays’ new first baseman, writing,

Over 253 plate appearances in 2014, he hit a very promising .256/.289/.450, with 16 home runs – good for a 112 wRC+, or 12 percent above league average. That’s a good start for a rookie hitter, but there was reason to worry, due to Cron’s low 4 percent walk rate and high 24 percent strikeout rate.

In Cron’s 2015 season, over 404 plate appearances, he lost a little bit of power, which brought his wRC+ down to 104. There was a power rebound in 2016, while Cron also managed to bring his strikeout rate down to a respectable 17 percent, and the result was another solidly above average hitting season with a 114 wRC+ over 445 plate appearances. But Cron didn’t get the chance to build on his strikeout improvements: recovery from an offseason surgery, and a series of new injuries (mostly stemming from a left foot issue), limited him in 2017. He was average at the plate overall (99 wRC+), and he struck out a career high 26 percent.

What type of player you think the Rays are getting depends a lot on where you draw your endpoints.

Player A is a promising slugger, entering the prime of his career (he’ll be 28 this year), who has power and bat control, and who’s made big adjustments to cut his strikeout rate nearly ten percentage points over three years. If 2017 was an injury-plagued aberration, Player A is a player on the rise.

Player B doesn’t walk, strikes out to much, and gives no defenisve value. He has some power, but it’s limited by his approach. Maybe he should have been better, a first baseman who barely hits above average is just a placeholder until the Rays can find a real solution.

Both shoes fit. The Rays hope Cron wears the first.

Another way to look at things

The Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay’s trading partner for Jake Odorizzi, cried financial shortfall as the sought a new stadium in the late ’90s/early aughts, and the need for the polarizing moves Saturday night bared a striking resemblance to those made some 20-25 years prior — something that was not lost on 

The Rays seem to have embarked on a controversial strategy to demonstrate the need for a new stadium: Rather than building enthusiasm for the upcoming season, they have talked publicly of the need to reduce payroll, and took a pair of bold actions on that front on Saturday night.
It could be pointed out the Twins tried the desperate approach – all the way to volunteering for contraction – in the late 1990s and start of the 2000s without success. It wasn’t until three straight division titles from 2002 to 2004 helped generate some enthusiasm that Hennepin County’s financing plan was approved by the Legislature on May 20, 2006.
In other words, the moves offer yet another glaring example of Sternberg being Sternberg at the expense of the fans. With his unwillingness to open the books to show an actual financial need to reduce payroll — among other things — Sternberg continues to sow the seeds of discontent within the fan-base, while also driving away even the most ardent fanatics.

Leave a comment