Even though pitchers and catchers had already reported and the Rays were already set to have 65 players in their big league camp, their highest count since 2003, the Rays didn’t hesitate when the opportunity arose for them to sign a player who could conceivably help them in 2013. The Rays announced that they have agreed to a minor league contract with outfielder/DH Jack Cust, the former Oakland Athletics slugger who last appeared in the major leagues with the Mariners in 2011. Cust will be in the Rays’ camp, but is there any chance we see him in the major leagues for the Rays this season?
Cust, 34, is a big left-handed hitter best known for his plate discipline. At his peak from 2007 to 2009, Cust averaged a .241/.378/.462 line with an average of 18 doubles, 28 homers, and 76 RBI per season. He led the American League in strikeouts all three of those years, but his strikeout to walk ratio was 546-309, which was certainly tolerable given his power and how often he was getting on base. But he faded in 2010 and 2011 as his strikeout tendencies began to get out of hand and his power decreased, and in 2012, he was stuck at the Triple-A affiliates for the Yankees and Blue Jays all season, managing a .243/.400/.442 line with 15 doubles, 20 homers, 72 RBI, and a 148-97 strikeout to walk ratio in 114 games. Cust especially has to hit well because he’s a well below-average defensive player limited to DH except in the case of an emergency, but his issues at the plate mean he’s essentially a one-tool guy, having nice power but none of the other five tools, although his plate discipline does stand out, and despite being a big, strong guy, his power has never been that prolific. So what could Cust possibly give the Rays? He could be this year’s Hideki Matsui, insurance for James Loney and Luke Scott should they get injured or their performance drop off. Matsui was an unmitigated disaster in 2012, but Cust couldn’t possibly be that bad and he could at least be around a league average hitter with some pop at this stage in his career, albeit one that couldn’t play the field. Is that really the type of player the Rays want to burn a roster spot on? Absolutely not. But you know what can happen over the course of the season, and stashing a halfway-decent backup option at Triple-A on a cheap minor league deal is a worthwhile move. Cust seeing time in the major leagues in 2013 would not be a welcome development because it would mean that the guys ahead of him had completely fallen apart. At the same though, it’s nice to know that he’ll be there if the wheels do come off and that the Rays are doing whatever they can to make sure their team stays afloat when unforeseen events inevitably transpire.