Rays Tales: Was moving on from C.J. Cron the right move?

The Rays DFA'd the 30-homer hitting DH/first baseman in hopes of finding an upgrade.
The Rays believe they can improve their production and lineup without C.J. Cron, who hit 30 home runs last season. CHRIS URSO   |   Times
The Rays believe they can improve their production and lineup without C.J. Cron, who hit 30 home runs last season. CHRIS URSO | Times
Published Nov. 24, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG – Did the Rays make the right decision in designating for assignment 30-homer hitting DH/1B C.J. Cron?

Check back March 28, and see what their opening day lineup looks like, and if they have a bigger bat.

Ultimately, that's what this was about.

Not, as some screamed, about paying a player $5 million plus, as Cron was projected to make; a bias against older (29 in January) players; a conspiratorial string of illogical or inept decisions tying back to Corey Dickerson's spring DFA.

The Rays want to get better, seeking to upgrade to a more overall productive hitter, a bonus with more defensive versatility, than Cron. They believe they'll have the opportunity in a deep market to do so.

Strongly enough that they didn't even want to risk keeping Cron as a fallback, sensing his market could be so limited they'd end up eating the money if they did upgrade.

That seemed validated when senior VP Chaim Bloom acknowledged they couldn't find a deal for him last week, and how the industry is trending on those type of one-dimensional hitters.  (Plus, they valued the roster spot to protect a fifth prospect from the Rule 5 draft, which is why they acted sooner than later.)

The decision really wasn't surprising, even to Cron's camp. Certainly not to anyone following along, and reading these pages, closely as the Rays' direction has seemed clear.

Even the recent trade acquisition of C Mike Zunino was a sign, as he profiles similarly to Cron, a right-hander who piles up homers and strikeouts.

The Rays, who could field a team with a payroll in the $32 million range, are willing to shop on a higher shelf than usual. So you'll hear of them having interest in free agents Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson and Andrew McCutchen and trade-available Paul Goldschmidt, maybe Edwin Encarnacion.

Indications are they'd be willing to spend (relatively) big, $10 million-plus, though only on a short term, maybe just a one-year deal. (So, Bryce Harper … ) And because these are the Rays, they may well find that lesser known or unexpected target (Evan Gattis?) who is an even better, cheaper and more productive fit.

The Rays are deep enough, with the potential for Matt Duffy or Daniel Robertson to replace Cron as the righty-hitting first base option, that the upgrade needs to be significant. The only risk in dumping Cron, who is likely headed to waivers and free agency, is not doing better. Then again, maybe not even.

Roster shaping

The next key date in the off-season calendar is Nov. 30, when teams decide which rostered players won't get tendered contracts. It's typically arbitration-eligible players in play, but the Rays have only four and seem likely to keep them: Zunino (a projected $4.2 million), OF Tommy Pham ($4M), Duffy ($2.6M), RHP Chaz Roe ($1.4M). … Ex-Rays INF Tim Beckham is reportedly at risk of being non-tendered in Baltimore.

Rays rumblings

Double-A manager Brady Williams seems the likely choice to replace Jared Sandberg, who left Triple-A Durham to join Seattle's big-league coaching staff. Class A Bowling Green manager Craig Albernaz also may get a promotion. … On the day Cron was dropped by the Rays, the player traded for him, INF Luis Rengifo, was added to the Angels' 40-man roster. As was Cron's younger brother, Kevin, by Arizona. … Teams typically frown on departed staffers taking others with them, so the Rays deserve props for allowing longtime minor-league coach/manager Bill Evers to join new manager Rocco Baldelli in Minnesota, getting an unexpected opportunity at 64 to go back to the majors. … The Rays 2020 group said the announced $16 million in sponsorships and tickets for the proposed $892 million Ybor City stadium is an annual commitment for 10 years, not a one-time contribution, which is definitely better. … Not sure what led ex-Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey to leave the Cubs after one season for "personal reasons," but certainly hope it's not health related, which there was no reason at season's end to think so. …. Hiring Paul Hoover as field coordinator would mean four of the seven coaches and manager Kevin Cash played for the Rays in the majors or minors. … The Rays get an extra pick in the June draft, currently No. 35, via the competitive balance round formula, and now have four in the top 100, also Nos. 22, 61, 99. … ESPN's first 14 nationally telecast games next season don't include the Rays; the Yankees, Braves, Cubs and Dodgers are on three times each, 18 teams are included.  … Rodney Linares not only got formally hired last week as the  new third-base/infield coach, but also took over as manager of the Aguilas team in Dominican league, with new Rays OF Guillermo Heredia on his roster. … RHP Jake Faria and longtime girlfriend Jessica Soto were married last weekend, with an In-N-Out burger truck as part of the SoCal reception. … RHP Jaime Schultz and wife Alyssa announced the birth of son Bode Matthew. … LHP Kyle Bird, one of five prospects added to the 40-man roster, was teammates at FSU with Bucs QB Jameis Winston, who was, no surprise, a hard-throwing pitcher. … Another addition, LHP Brock Burke, draws  comparisons at Cy Young award winner LHP Blake Snell at similar development points. … Interesting that San Francisco media are speculating on ways for the Giants to trade ex-Rays star 3B Evan Longoria, who is due $67.5 million over the next four seasons, plus a $5 million buyout in 2023.
Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.