The order from ownership to cut payroll stymied by the same market freeze that has stalled transactions throughout the game, the Rays on Saturday night burst into action with a series of somewhat confusing moves that saved them around $10 million.
The biggest deal was sending No. 2 starter Jake Odorizzi, who just won a $6.3-million salary in arbitration, to the Twins for Jermaine Palacios, a Class A shortstop prospect they like more than the industry experts.
The most perplexing was designating for assignment 2017 All-Star DH Corey Dickerson, giving away leverage in hoping to bring trade talks to conclusion during the 10-day window or just surrender and release him, though paying just one-sixth of his $5.95-million salary, roughly $1-million, in termination pay.
And the most intriguing was acquiring right-handed hitting first baseman/DH C.J. Cron from the Angels for a player – a minor-leaguer, and likely not a top prospect – to be named later, giving them better balance in their lineup.
Besides lowering a payroll that was pushing $80-million, GM Erik Neander said they also wanted to make the moves now to provide some clarity to the players before full-squad workouts start on Monday. "You just don't want a cloud of uncertainty hanging over our group,'' he said. "It was time to move forward.''
After spending much of the winter talking about myriad scenarios for trading a starting pitcher, the Rays felt the best they could do was deal Odorizzi, 27, coming off a 10-8, 4.14 season in which he battled several minor injuries, for Palacios.
"It's Feb. 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.''
Palacios, 21, an international free agent signee in 2013, hit .296 with 13 homers, 67 RBIs, 20 steals and a .787 OPS between Class A Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers in his fourth pro season.
Though Palacios is not highly ranked by the various prospect experts – Baseball America doesn't have him among the Twins top 30 prospects – Neander said they like his all around tools, offense, defense and makeup and "probably have him valued quite a bit higher than some of the public publications.''
In four full seasons wih the Rays, following a year at Triple-A Durham following his acquisition from Kansas City in what at the time was known as the Wil Myers-James Shields trade, Odorizzi is 40-36, 3.81.
With Odorizzi traded, the Rays still have considerable depth and options in their rotation. Behind top starter Chris Archer, they can line up lefty Blake Snell, then right-handers Nathan Eovaldi, Jake Faria and Matt Andriese. Plus they have prospects Yonny Chirinos, Jose De Leon, Brent Honeywell and leffy Ryan Yarbrough available.
Unable to find any takers for Dickerson, the Rays opted to DFA him for two reasons – to make clear he was not in their plans, and to try to bring the trade talks they have had to conclusion, though losing whatever leverage they may have had. Worst case, they pay him the $1-million termination pay and cut him loose.
How does a player go from All-Star to DFA?
After swinging his way into the mid-summer classic with a sizzling first half – including an AL high .330 average as last as June 26 – Dickerson, 28, faded miserably, including just a .241 average, and didn't fare well when given the chance to play leftfield on a regular basis. Overall, he finished with a .282 average with 27 homers, 62 RBIs and an .815 OPS.
"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.''
Plus, the Rays considered Dickerson expendable since they have three other left-handed hitting outfielders in Kevin Kiermaier, Mallex Smith and Denard Span, the Tampa product who now seems likely to stay.
So in essence, apart from the minor-leaguer to go, the Rays saw this as a Dickerson for Cron swap, getting a right-handed hitter who can split time with Brad Miller at first base and DH, better balancing their lineup, and at a lesser cost, as he makes $2.3-million. Plus, they get an extra year of control with Cron, who won't be eligible for free agency until 2021.
Last season, Cron hit .248 with a career-high matching 16 homers, 56 RBIs and a .742 OPS in 100 games (92) starts, all at first base. In splitting time between Triple-A and the majors the last four seasons, Cron, 28, with the Angels hit .262 with 59 homers, 213 RBI and a .756 OPS over 408 games in the majors.