The Rays have acquired first baseman C.J. Cron from the Angels for a player to be named later, both teams annonuced. In a surprising corresponding move, Tampa also announced that outfielder Corey Dickerson has been designated for assignment to create roster space.
Cron had been noted as a potential trade candidate for much of the winter, especially after the Angels signed Shohei Ohtani and Zack Cozart. Ohtani’s presence in the DH mix meant more planned first base time for Albert Pujols, and Cozart’s installation as the everyday third baseman left Luis Valbuena floating between third and first. With Cron’s departure, the Halos can now use Pujols at DH and Valbuena at first base, with Pujols shifting to first a couple of times per week to give Ohtani a chance to hit. Jefry Marte is also on hand as inexpensive corner infield depth.
“With the construction of our roster and the personnel we have in place for this upcoming season, we have to place a premium on flexibility and maneuverability within our position player group,” Angels GM Billy Eppler told reporters, including Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. Cron is only a first baseman and was out of options, leaving him the odd man out on a three-man Angels bench (necessitated by the likelihood of the team carrying 13 pitchers).
Never quite a regular in the Angels lineup over his four MLB seasons, Cron has hit .262/.307/.449 with 59 homers over 1475 career plate appearances. As per Fangraphs’ wRC+ metric, Cron has created seven percent more runs (107 wRC+) than the average hitter over that same stretch, despite a lack of on-base ability. He is also something of a reverse-splits hitter from the right side of the plate, with a career .772 OPS against right-handers and only a .716 OPS against southpaws.
These splits make Cron a something less-than-ideal platoon partner with Brad Miller, the Rays’ incumbent first baseman, given the left-handed Miller’s struggles against same-sided pitching. Cron could receive regular duty as either a first baseman or a designated hitter, though the Rays would have to be confident that Cron’s 2017 season (the worst of his career) was just an aberration due to foot injuries. Cron did increase his hard-hit ball rate to a career-best 35.8% last season, though his main issue was simply making putting the bat on the ball at all, as evidenced lowered contact rates and a career-worst 25.7% strikeout rate.
Perhaps the bigger headline here is that the Rays are prepared to entirely cut ties with Dickerson, who made the AL All-Star team just last summer. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 homers over 629 PA in 2017, though the large majority of that damage came in the first half of the season. Dickerson posted a .903 OPS in 370 PA before the break, and only a .690 OPS in 259 PA after the break. That dropoff notwithstanding, Dickerson was a 2.6 fWAR player last season, posted respectable defensive numbers in left field (+4.5 UZR/150, -1 Defensive Runs Saved), is still just 28 years old and is under team control for two more seasons.
As always with the Rays, financial elements played a key role. It was widely expected that the Rays were going to cut payroll this winter, with Dickerson and the team’s other priciest arbitration-eligible players standing out as the likeliest candidates to be traded. (Not to mention the Rays moving their biggest contract in Evan Longoria.) Dickerson is slated to earn $5.95MM in 2018 after avoiding arbitration with the team, while Cron is set to earn $2.3MM in 2018 and has two more arb-eligible years before reaching free agency after the 2020 season.
Dickerson’s salary is not guaranteed since he is an arbitration-eligible player, so the Rays would only owe him 30 days’ worth of termination pay if he ends up being released after the 10-day DFA period. A team that claims Dickerson or works out a trade with the Rays during the next 10 days would take on his full $5.95MM salary. If the Rays were willing to go to this extent to unload Dickerson’s salary, it wouldn’t be a shock to see other players (perhaps Miller or Adeiny Hechevarria, not more valuable trade chips like Jake Odorizzi or Alex Colome) also let go before their arbitration salaries become guaranteed.
Under normal circumstances, you’d think Dickerson would draw a lot of interest from several teams, though his market could be somewhat muted given the large number of power bats still available on the free agent market. One can assume the Rays have been shopping Dickerson for much of the winter and couldn’t find any takers, though it’s possible any interested teams could also swoop in now they could simply claim him without having to give up anything in return. A team could also hope that nobody else acquires Dickerson over the 10 days in the hopes of signing him to a cheaper contract.