Devon talked about yesterday how the Rays were close to signing Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger is a utilityman, albeit one with a solid bat. Utility players are something the Rays have an overabundance of. They have Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac (who could be taught third and left field if needed), and then non-roster invitee Will Rhymes along with several prospects who fit a similar profile. Why would the Rays possibly sign Keppinger?
The first thing that came to my head when I heard about this signing was the law of supply and demand. We hear (especially from Jonah Keri’s book The Extra 2%) how the Rays run their baseball team like any other business. Let’s run with that theory here. The law of supply demand states that prices for goods are based on the amount of the goods that are available in a given market and how much of the domestic goods other markets need in order to meet their quota for the goods. Are the Rays building up their supply of certain types of players in order that the demand for those types of players increases accordingly? It’s not just the utility infielders. It’s also the pitchers. We saw over a month ago how similar Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis are in their Pitch F/X profiles. Why are the Rays holding on to both pitchers and not trading one of them when they only need one of them? The Rays even have two other cheaper pitchers in Alex Cobb and Alex Torres who could be a more cost-efficient 5th starter without costing the Rays too much in terms of performance. And then there’s B.J. Upton. Sure, he’s a nice player, but they have a player in Brandon Guyer who has mastered Triple-A and seems ready to be a productive starting outfielder. Why are they so hesitant to trade Upton? What are the Rays doing with any of this?
There are close to 1200 players on the 40-man rosters of the 30 major league teams (some teams have 38 or 39 players instead of the full 40). And then there are thousands and thousands more players in the minor leagues, some of whom will play in the major leagues some day. Every player is unique, but there are certain way to group players. The simplest way is by position. But then you get into more specific things like slugging third basemen, defensive centerfielders, and light-hitting utility infielders. Within these divergent characterizations, different players are more talented than others. The 30 teams need players of many different classifications in order to make up their 40-man rosters. What the Rays have done is taken players at the upper ranges of these categories and taken them away from their competition and forced opposing teams to pay more of a premium to acquire these specific types of players. Since there are less players available, each individual player has a higher value. And since the Rays have more of those individual players, they’ll be able to get more value in return (or in other terms, return on investment).
The Rays could be about to start making moves from these positions of strength. And the prospects they could get in return for these trades greatly out-weighs the risks they’re taking by signing all these players. This strategy may perplex analyst, fan, and even player alike. But there’s a very good chance these maneuvers will help significantly improve the Rays organization and make them a better team in coming seasons. Is this really going on? I have absolutely no idea. But it has to be a possibility.
We know the Rays are one of the best-run teams in baseball. The moves they’re making by signing these players at positions they already have a surplus in and not trading from the superfluities they already have don’t make any sense when thinking in straight-out baseball terms. There has to be something else going on here.