The Rays are one bat short of being ready to go on a playoff run. Wait, are they? They’re missing a DH, fine, but they have plenty of outfielders. There’s Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and Ben Zobrist who are all more-than-capable starters, and then there’s the recently-acquired Wil Myers. Sure, Myers has no big league experience, but he’s extremely talented and the Rays know that he could be a superstar in a few years. What are the Rays waiting for? Put Myers in the big leagues, and although there’s kinks that have to be worked out, he should be fine, and then you have to pay millions of dollars signing a designated hitter! But, no, the Rays aren’t about to do that, instead planning to start Myers at Triple-A to make some adjustments after he slammed 37 homers but also struck out 140 times primarily at Triple-A last year. In addition, the Rays will actually save money even if they spend 5 million dollars to sign a DH this offseason because it will allow them to keep Myers in Triple-A until the Super Two deadline passes, allowing them to avoid having to go through arbitration four times instead of the usual three with Myers, something that would be quite costly if Myers becomes the player that he’s capable of being.
The Rays could circumvent this whole thing by signing him to an Evan Longoria or Matt Moore-esque long-term deal before or during his first big league season. Even then, though, Longoria only arrived in the major leagues a couple of weeks into the season, and that was coming off a season like Myers as a 21 year old between Double-A and Triple-A without the sam type of concerning factors. Myers managed a .314/.387/.600 line (.987 OPS) with 37 home runs in 2012 to Longoria’s .299/.402/.520 (.922 OPS) with 26 home runs in 2007, but Myers managed just a 140-61 strikeout to walk ratio while Longoria’s approach at the plate was astronomically better at 110-73. Longoria was also playing in a much less hitter-friendly league. Weighted by both players’ playing time in each league, the average of Longoria’s leagues was just a .726 OPS while Myers’ was higher by a solid margin at .745. Does this mean that Longoria was a better prospect than Myers? Not necessarily, but Longoria was clearly more big league ready than Myers is right now. If Myers were to get a long-term contract, the Rays would immediately bring him to the major leagues, but that doesn’t look something they’ll want to do immediately. What makes the most sense for the Rays, even if they do sign Myers to a long-term contract, is to start him at Triple-A for a couple months, let him improve his plate discipline and cut down the strikeouts, and when they’re sure he’s ready, they can bring him to the big leagues and then have him officially sign to the contract.
Starting Myers at Triple-A in 2013 is clearly the safe play for the Rays and almost certainly their best course of action. Or is it? Jim Bowden of ESPN called the Rays’ decision to leave Myers at Triple-A Durham to begin next season one of his “biggest risks of the offseason.”
However the real problem is that with the loss of Upton, this will be an offensively challenged lineup. And with James Shields‘ proven production missing in the rotation, it won’t be as easy getting to the postseason this year with improvements made by the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox, not to mention the maturing of the Baltimore Orioles’ nucleus. Keeping Myers in Durham to start the year will certainly help them financially down the road, but it could torpedo their playoff hopes in 2013.
We know that the Rays are not exactly an offensive powerhouse, but once again they’re really one bat away from being absolutely fine. They did lose Upton, but they’ll (hopefully) be having Evan Longoria for the whole season, solved their shortstop black hole by acquiring Yunel Escobar, can’t possibly get any worse production than Carlos Pena gave them from James Loney, and are lacking just one more hitter before they’re set. Bowden is also assuming that he’s going to step in and immediately become an above-average outfielder. Obviously the Rays hope he will, but the stories of Myers’ ex-teammates with the Royals, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer are cautionary tales enough. So Bowden is saying that the Rays should risk bringing Myers to the big leagues before they’re 100% sure he’s ready is a move that the Rays really should be making if they want to make the playoffs next year? The Rays’ biggest risk right now is not signing a designated hitter yet. If they don’t add another bat, then they’re really making a gamble. But as long as they can add one more good hitter to their lineup, they should be able to get enough offensive production to keep them among the top teams in the AL East until Myers is ready. Bowden’s comments really only have any significance at all if the Rays don’t acquire a DH and still don’t bring Myers to the major leagues. Andrew Friedman has said repeatedly that the Rays are looking for another piece for their lineup, and we can safely assume that by the time spring training rolls around, the Rays will indeed make that happen.
Both in the short-term and in the big picture, the Rays’ best move appears to be to start Wil Myers in the minor leagues next season. Once they sign another hitter to bolster their lineup, they’ll have the hitting to contend in the AL East given the impressiveness of their pitching, and once Myers arrives, the Rays will be confident that he’ll be ready to become a cornerstone of their franchise for years to come. They’re not being too conservative and worrying too much about their future payroll- they’re making the move that’s best for their team next season and for Wil Myers in coming years.