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An optimist’s view: Rays Dickerson, Odorizzi moves

Yes, the glass is half full

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Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

All right, Rays Nation, let’s talk this out.

There are going to be a lot of emotions swirling after the Rays series of transactions on Saturday night. (One DRB writer asked if the timing was intentional to avoid blowback. A Tampa Bay version of the Colts leaving Baltimore in the dead of night, if you will.)

A lot of those reactions are going to be negative. Many will see this as a salary dump. Those fans will undoubtedly threaten to not attend games in 2018 and cancel their MLB TV subscriptions. That subset of fan (which, really at this point, is not a subset, but rather a majority) has reason to be upset.

Here’s what Rays fans have gotten this offseason: a trade of the Face of the Franchise, a player who donned the Columbia Blue of Tampa Bay for a decade; a failure to re-sign their second-best hitter by fWAR in 2017, a man who hit 38 home runs at the position that, as of now is the weakest on the diamond for the Rays; continued rumors about impending trades of their best starter and best reliever in perpetual limbo.

They really haven’t added anyone likely to excite Rays fans (sorry, Christian Arroyo, Denard Span and Ryan Schimpf). So from a fan’s perspective, this has been a winter of subtraction rather than addition.

And now they have traded their number two starter, and DFA’d their lone offensive All-Star from 2017.

That’s a pair of moves that the front office is bound to know is going to drive some heavy backlash. The DFA of Dickerson - a player who quickly became a fan favorite thanks in part to his Vlad Guerrero-esque ability to put any pitch in play - is a move that will raise the ire of many a Rays fan.

But really, there are upsides!

However, let’s try to step back for a moment and see why the Rays front office would make these moves other than just wanting to dump salary.

Let’s start with the Odorizzi trade, which should come as a surprise to no one.

Odorizzi, king of the home run ball

An Odorizzi trade has been rumored all offseason, and even the destination, Minnesota, wasn’t too surprising. Here at DRB, many of us were fans of Minnesota as a possible destination because: A) it wasn’t within the AL East, and B) the possible return of a big-league-ready talent like Max Kepler offered a lot of intrigue for 2018.

The Rays did not get that big-league talent. They ended up getting a 21-year-old shortstop outside of the Twins top ten prospect rankings. To me, that was the most disappointing aspect of all these moves.

But even with that disappointment, it’s hard to imagine that losing Odorizzi is really going to come back to haunt the Rays.

Odorizzi is a proven MLB arm, but he is fresh off his worst MLB season. As I had written during the season: I am of the belief that Odorizzi is the type of pitcher who might be the most dangerous to trust in this era of “Juiced Ball/Launch Angle Revolution,” etc.

While Odorizzi’s ERA was still respectable at 4.14 in 2017, his FIP of 5.43 and xFIP of 5.10 ranked 121st and 116th, respectively, out of the 134 pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2017. Considering the Rays would be paying him $6.3 million, Odorizzi would have to do better than 121st or 116h in baseball to justify the money. Especially when the Rays have plenty of young (read: cheap) option waiting in the wings.

About those options.

Brent Honeywell is now all but guaranteed to see the MLB level in 2018. Jose De Leon and Ryan Yarbrough now seem like high possibilities to see significant time in the MLB rotation. I hope you didn’t throw away your custom-made “Hu?” t shirts just yet, either.

These two Saturday night moves seem to signify the official move to “Future” on the Rays spectrometer.

CJ Cron justifies loss of Dickerson

As far as DFA’ing Dickerson, my thoughts are nearly the same (although I am sure it will harder to convince you on this case). Just last June, I posted one of my hottest takes on this very website positing that the Rays may want to test the trade waters for Corey Dickerson, as he was due for some severe regression.

That regression did indeed arrive in the second half of 2017. After posting a .903 OPS in the first half, Dickerson posted just a .690 OPS after the All-Star break. Pitchers began to pepper Dickerson with pitches outside of the zone, and Dickerson’s approach played right into their hands - his 45.6 percent swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone was the worst among all qualified hitters in 2017. I’m a guy who (likely) pays too much attention to the plate discipline tab at FanGraphs, but regardless, it takes Hall of Fame level talent to overcome a league-worst swing rate on pitches outside of the zone to become a plus-contributor in this league - especially from the position of either DH or left fielder.

Finally, the Dickerson move appears to have been completed to allow room on the roster for CJ Cron. (The Rays also have ten days to find a trade partner for Dickerson before he would be fair game around the league.) Ian Malinoswki did a great job answering the question of “Who is CJ Cron,” so I’ll direct you there, but for my money, he’s a bat with as much potential as Dickerson, who is cheaper, slightly younger, and plays at a position of higher need for the Rays. A lot of people would disagree, but I would have traded Dickerson for Cron straight up.

Conclusion

This is right about the point in the article where you are undoubtedly calling me a shill for the front office and getting your comment on how DRB is in the pocket of the organization locked and loaded. (Who am I kidding? You left that comment right after you read the headline, you’ve stopped reading long ago.)

But I’m not. Truth be told, I have had minimal connection to the Rays, although I’ve certainly grown in my attachment as I’ve written for this site. I grew up a Yankee fan, and prior to this gig, had written about the Twins and A’s. I truly have no dog in this fight. And as an “outsider” I can see these transactions in a positive light. I’m not thinking with my heart on this one; I’m thinking with only my head.

It is also possible that this is a matter of the Rays parting ways with a pair of players of whom I held a lower opinion than the general consensus, but all things considered, I’m going to reserve judgement until we see how 2018 (and more importantly: 2019, 2020, etc.) plays out.

There is a long-standing truism in the NBA that the treadmill of mediocrity is the worst place to be. You either want to be a “have” or a have not.” For the past four years, mediocrity is where the Rays have been. They haven’t tanked but they haven’t won. This offseason the Rays seem to have hit that re-set button, and it may indeed be the quickest road back to winning baseball.