All season, the Rays have pulled off minor transaction after minor transaction in an attempt to find the right players to help them survive with Evan Longoria and others absent. Brandon Allen, Rich Thompson, Hideki Matsui, Drew Sutton, and Brooks Conrad have all been acquired. It has been the same story every time: they have gotten off to a great start, gotten some clutch hits, and then fallen apart, necessitating another move by the Rays. Ryan Roberts is the next such transaction, and the Rays believe that for once they’ll get a degree of stability.
Roberts, 32, has been rumored to be heading to the Rays for a while, and that officially went into motion as Roberts was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday. If you had predicted that Roberts would be designated for assignment last year at this time, people would have thought you were crazy as Roberts was making the league minimum and had already hit 13 home runs and stolen 13 bases for the first place Diamondbacks. But that’s exactly what has happened. Roberts had a breakout season in 2011, posting a .249/.341/.427 line with 25 doubles, 19 homers, 65 RBI, and 18 of 27 stolen bases in 143 games and 555 plate appearances, seeing time primarily at third base and second base but also left field and shortstop. He also hit .350 with 2 homers and 6 RBI in the playoffs. But this season, Roberts dropped off to a .250/.306/.357 line with 9 doubles, 6 homers, 34 RBI, and 6 of 9 stolen bases, and the Diamondbacks had seen enough.
Roberts, 5’11″ and 185 pounds, stands out for his power-speed combo, his solid plate discipline, and his versatility. Roberts features pretty good pop, as evidenced from his 18 home runs in 2011, and he has some speed, although his stolen base success rates have never been great. His plate discipline is pretty good as he has 134 walks versus 227 strikeouts for his career, including a 98-66 strikeout to walk ratio in 2011. Defensively, Roberts is a good defender at second base and third base, and he’s solid in left field while being able to fake shortstop in a pinch. Doesn’t Roberts sound like a pretty good all-around player? Why would the Diamondbacks get rid of him?
The problem for Roberts is his platoon splits. For his career, Roberts, a righty swinger, has just a .238/.315/.369 line against righties compared to .272/.360/.455 line against lefties. Even in 2011, he was at .238/.320/.404 against right-handed pitching compared to .278/.392/.489 with lefties on the mound. In 2012, he has managed just a feeble .239/.293/.327 line against righties compare to a .272/.360/.455 triple slash against lefties. Considering most pitchers are righties, that’s a pretty big handicap. But the Rays have struggles specifically against lefty starting pitchers in 2012 and Roberts can help address that. And by the way, Roberts’ numbers against righties aren’t so bad considering his potential competitors for playing time with the Rays.
A Ryan Roberts acquisition will give the Rays a solid presence in the lineup, especially against lefties, and give the Rays the type of speed and defensive versatility that they maximize as much as anyone in baseball. Roberts will also be under team control until following the 2015 season, giving the Rays a relatively low-cost option whose versatility will allow him to make an impact even when Evan Longoria is healthy and other moves are made.
In exchange for Roberts, the Rays gave up second base prospect Tyler Bortnick. Bortnick, 24, is a player who the Rays have always liked thanks to his speed, plate discipline, and overall attitude and hustle, but he’s not a flashy prospect at all and fits best as a utilityman. Bortnick embodies the way the Rays play the game of baseball, but trading him to acquire an immediate big league contributor like Roberts is definitely the right move.
In Ryan Roberts, the Rays will get a valuable platoon player and possibly more who will provide needed offensive relief on the infield, especially with Longoria out, and he will give the Rays at the very least another player who fits a good utility profile. Roberts is no savior, but he’s the type of all-around player the Rays love to have on their roster and getting him at the lowest possible price made the opportunity to acquire him just a little better. Does a Roberts trade mean that the Rays are going to be buyers at the trade deadline and acquire the necessary pieces for a pennant run? No. But it does tell you that they’re not going to give up on this season. The 2012 season has not gone anywhere near as well as the Rays had hoped. But this team is still as talented as any in baseball once Longoria returns and the Rays are ready to show the rest of baseball just how good they are the rest of the season.