BRADENTON, Fla. – Baseball transactions can be confusing, even to people who follow baseball on a daily basis. When a player is designated for assignment, a team has seven days to trade, waive, or release a player. It’s a process where the player looks like he has little value to his current team, and doesn’t find out how the rest of the league values him until the process is over.
Corey Dickerson’s case was a bit more confusing. He was an All-Star last year, coming off a season where he had a 2.6 fWAR. He was making just $5.95 M this year, and had one extra year of control remaining. And the Rays designated him for assignment after acquiring C.J. Cron, who makes $3 M less and was worth two fewer wins in 2017.
“I think anytime when you’re with an organization that has to be weary of their payroll, you have to anticipate being dealt. Once you get to Spring Training, you feel safe,” Dickerson said. “I was in Spring Training for a week. I showed up early, because I knew I was going to have my son, so I was going to get my feet under me. When I got the call, I was a bit off-guard.”
The toughest part for Dickerson was explaining to friends and family what the DFA process means. He had to explain that it didn’t mean he was released, and that he wasn’t good enough to play anymore, but that the team was making it easier to trade him. The situation was resolved when the Pirates acquired him on the final day before he would hit waivers.
“It feels disrespectful for whenever you perform and do your job and feel like you helped the team,” Dickerson said. “For it to be done in that way, it hurt. But I’m going to turn the page. I’m ready to turn the page. I’m going to play my game and help this organization try to win.”
It was surprising that Dickerson was designated for assignment following the season he had. He has had injury problems in the past, including some back tightness last year that he was trying to work through. But even in his down years he has been a 1.5 WAR player, which is well worth the small contract he has.
Dickerson had plantar fasciitis in 2015, and had several issues in 2016 that he played through with the entire year. He decided to get in better shape after that season, which may have led to his 2017 success.
“I feel healthy now. I’m healthier than I’ve been the last couple of years,” Dickerson said. “I was a little heavier. Wasn’t moving the way I wanted to, and after the  season, I really devoted myself to learn about the body, how it works. Reached out to very intelligent people that could help me. I basically was relentless trying to change my body and get back to where I used to be. It worked. I was feeling healthy last year. I didn’t lift many weights that year before, and I think that caught up with me. Half way through I was kind of fatigued. I had a healthy offseason, so hopefully I can withstand it a little longer.”
Dickerson should bring some added power to the Pirates’ lineup. The one concern is how his defense will play in the spacious left field at PNC Park. He’s used to left field, playing the majority of his time there in Colorado and Tampa Bay.
“That was my whole thing with Tampa while I was there,” Dickerson said. “I preached wanting to play left field, wanting to get out there. I always wound up out there, no matter if I didn’t start out there. I feel like I handled myself very well. I just had the knack when I was coming up. I had shoulder surgery and all of those things. The knack was I couldn’t play outfield. I think everybody has to have some kind of opinion. But I feel like the numbers, if you look at them, they’re there. My fielding percentage, the way I get to balls, I feel I can handle the position.”
Dickerson wasn’t a good fielder by the metrics in Colorado. In his final year with the Rockies, he had a -6 DRS and a -14.1 UZR/150. His defensive numbers have improved over the last two years, to the point where he had a -1 DRS last year and a 4.5 UZR/150. That followed up on a 2 DRS and a 14.5 UZR/150 in 2016.
The question is whether he can carry the same defense over to PNC Park, which plays more like Coors Field than The Trop. Dickerson noted that he has great outfielders beside him in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, and that he learned a lot from Kevin Kiermaier in Tampa. But his time in Coors might help him make the adjustment.
“The big thing there is you try not to cover it all,” Dickerson said of his time in Colorado. “Our philosophy was you can leave a line and you can cover the gaps. If you can pinch the gaps and keep the triples away, you can get the doubles down the line. When you play in a big outfield like that, it’s really tough to cover the whole ground, no matter who is out there.”
Dickerson will provide a boost to the Pirates this year on offense. The hope is that his defense will be passable enough that he won’t lose much of his offensive value. If it holds up like the last two years, then he should be in good shape to be an all-around valuable player for the Pirates.