For the most part, the Tampa Bay Rays make very astute moves. They may be the only team in baseball that completely removes itself from the emotional component of the game in almost every case, never feeling the urge to re-sign a player like Jeff Keppinger or Casey Kotchman who had a surprise breakout year. They did extend Evan Longoria and it will be upsetting if they don’t do the same for David Price, but the way they are willing to shuffle through players while retaining loyalties to only the best of the best has been a major reason why they have remained successful the past six years despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. But it seems that for a couple of players, they have lost their usual sensibility. Last season, they brought back Carlos Pena for $7.25 million, an exorbitant sum by Rays standards, and it was especially surprising given that he was 34 years old and hadn’t hit higher than .225 in three years. He did have a strong second half for the Cubs in 2011, but no one was shocked when he proceeded to have a disastrous year, managing just a .197/.330/.354 line (93 OPS+) with a career-high 182 strikeouts and only 19 home runs in 600 plate appearances. Now this season, did the Rays make the same mistake with Luke Scott?
The Rays’ reasoning behind signing Scott in the 2011 offseason was quite sound. Scott had appeared in just 64 games the preceeding season, but he had put up a .284/.368/.535 line (144 OPS+) with 27 home runs just two years earlier and they thought he would be healthy following shoulder surgery. The cost was a reasonable $5 million and the Rays thought he was worth the gamble. Instead, more injuries and streakiness when he was healthy forced Scott to finish strongly just to have a .229/.285/.439 line (100 OPS+) on the year with 80 strikeouts against just 22 walks in 344 plate appearances. The Rays had taken a calculated gamble, but at the end of the day, it had failed. But after the season, they brought him back.
When the Rays re-signed Scott, it was for just over half as much as he had made the previous season, $2.75 million. The Rays were optimistic about re-signing Scott both because of the reduced cost and because they believed that he was finally healthy. It seemed like Scott’s second half breakout in 2012 came after his shoulder had progressed significantly, and since Scott was finally healthy, they expected him to get back towards his 2010 levels. At two different times, it appeared that they would be right. Scott played excellently in spring training, managing a .324/.378/.765 line with 6 doubles, 3 homers, and 9 RBI in 37 plate appearances. You can take spring training stats with a grain of salt, but Scott looked as good as we had ever seen him and Rays fans wanted to believe that good things were ahead. However, Scott then went down with not a shoulder injury but a calf injury, and he remained on the DL until April 30th. And then form June 13th to July 21st, Scott delivered an incredible .356/.426/.689 line with 10 doubles, 6 homers, and 18 RBI in 101 plate appearances. For a time, he was right there with Evan Longoria and James Loney as one of the Rays’ best hitters. However, his success was fleeting. Since then, he has hit just .111 in 41 plate appearances, and now he has gone on the DL with back spasms. Every time Scott has looked like he was finally breaking through, he has started slumping and then gotten hurt. Why did the Rays re-sign a player like this?
At the end of the day, $2.75 million dollars is not very much, even for the Rays. The money is also far from the only factor. Scott was never a lost cause and has showed positive signs over and over again. Sometimes a move simply doesn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean the rationale behind it is faulty. The Rays brough Scott back at the right price and under the right circumstances. Despite his injuries and everything else he has been through, re-signing him was the right move for the Rays.