Corey Dickerson was selected to the American League All-Star team in 2017 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2018, he agreed with the Rays on a one year, $5.95 million contract to avoid arbitration. Then, he was designated for assignment by his club. This is a player who should interest several baseball teams, including the Detroit Tigers.
Dickerson is a 28-year-old left-handed-hitting corner outfielder with four-plus seasons of service time in the major leagues. In over 2,100 career plate appearances, he has hit .280/.325/.504. In 2017, he posted a similar line with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and an OPS+ of 120. These numbers easily justify his salary, so the move to let him go comes as a surprise.
Unless the Tigers are completely unwilling to spend money, Dickerson should not get past them through waivers. He would give the Tigers an immediate upgrade in left field, and could prove to be a valuable trade chip at the trade deadline in July. In the interim, he would provide a middle of the order bat, and make (if nothing else) a nice platoon partner for Mikie Mahtook, his former teammate who came over from Tampa last year. Dickerson could also bump Mahtook to center field, where light-hitting Leonys Martin is the favorite to begin the season.
Being designated for assignment on February 17 means that Dickerson has been removed from the Rays’ 40-man roster. They have seven days to trade him, release him, or outright him to the minors. The latter two moves would require that he clear waivers. The Tigers have first claim on all players placed on waivers through the end of April.
If the Rays are unable to trade Dickerson, and if he clears waivers, he can be released with the Rays picking up just one sixth of his salary, which is not guaranteed. Any team that claims him on waivers would pick up his full contract terms, with a $5.95 million salary for the 2018 season, as well as his additional year of club control remaining. He is eligible for arbitration one more time.
The Tigers know all about the difficulty of trading an offensive oriented outfielder. But if trading Dickerson is the plan, the Rays lose some leverage by designating him. Tampa Bay general manager Eric Neander sounded as though a trade was still possible, but they wanted to move forward. According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:
“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.’’
Although the Rays have some depth with three other left-handed hitting outfielders on the roster, the moves have been met with criticism. Longoria, who was traded after spending ten seasons in Tampa Bay, blasted the moves. He told Topkin:
I kind of just feel bad for the Rays’ fan base....and I feel bad for the guys this year who were probably counting on Corey to put up numbers to help the team win. I’m not going to take too many shots. But I think it’s pretty obvious that the guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFA’d. It’s really hard to come into a clubhouse and expect to win when you give away your best players.”
The Rays still have Kevin Kiermayer, Mallex Smith, and Denard Span, along with righthanders Steven Souza and Micah Johnson on the roster. Kiermayer made no secret of his frustration at losing his team mates:
“I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why.” Then said it’s his responsibility to move on.
Dickerson was selected in the eighth round of the 2010 draft by the Colorado Rockies out of community college in Meridian, Mississippi. He was traded before the 2016 season in the deal that sent closer Jake McGee to Colorado. He broke in with the Rockies in 2013 and has posted a .300 average twice, and hit at least 24 home runs three times. His defense is not great, but not bad for a left fielder.