Since the middle of the 2010 season, Matt Joyce has been in the same role for the Tampa Bay Rays: a starting corner outfielder against right-handed pitching. Hitting lefties has always been an issue and his defense pales in comparison to the quality athletes with which the Rays have surrounded him in the outfield, but overall he has done a very good job. Since 2010, Joyce has a .250/.342/.448 line (121 OPS+) with an average of 22 doubles, 16 homers, and 6 stolen bases per season. Joyce is very streaky, but when he is on, he has the ability to carry the team like he did from mid-April to the onset of June of both 2011 and 2012. His slumps are tough to endure, but we always know that he could be just moments away from going on another tear. Matt Joyce is a flawed player, but the Rays have been able to get the most they possibly could out of him all these years. But after a weak 2013 and David DeJesus‘ extension, suddenly Joyce’s value of the team is in serious question.
After the Rays agreed with DeJesus to a two-year extension with an option for 2016, suddenly the Rays have two corner outfielders who can only hit right-handed pitching. Joyce and DeJesus have their differences–Joyce is a corner outfielder with power while DeJesus can play center and stands out for his plate discipline and strong gap-to-gap approach–but at the end of the day, it is tough to have two players fitting into almost the exact same role. Are the Rays willing to have both DeJesus and Joyce on their team making around $11 million combined when they are essentially redundant players?
There has been some talk about Joyce getting non-tendered, especially in wake of DeJesus return. Pending something drastic, that is not happening. A player gets non-tendered when he is not worth the money he is making and no team has sufficient interest in acquiring him in a trade. We can have a debate about whether Joyce is worth the $3.7 million MLB Trade Rumors’ Matt Swartz projects him for, but that salary combined with Joyce’s skill-set would look much more attractive in another team’s eyes. There is a higher chance that Joyce gets traded than he gets non-tendered. Can you really imagine the Rays letting him go without getting anything at all in return?
The question then becomes how hard the Rays are going to try to deal Joyce. Will they be listening to offers or will they be shopping Joyce believing that it’s inefficient to have both him and DeJesus on their team? That remain to be seen, but we have to expect the former. The Rays love giving Joe Maddon a group of players and watching him fit all of them into the lineup enough to help the team win and keep everyone happy. Even if DeJesus and Joyce are similar players, Maddon could pencil them both into the lineup for 400 plate appearances next year and likely a few dozen more. Much is up in the air for the Rays this offseason, but we know for sure that there are at-bats to go around in left field, and the Rays have work to do at first base and designated hitter as well. With DeJesus playing left field and a little center, Joyce may end up playing more designated hitter than he has in the past and also will have to learn first base, but there is no issue getting them both their necessary playing time. The Rays can keep Joyce, and they will only trade him if they get an offer that provides them with more value than what they expect from him next season.
Acquiring David DeJesus does not push Joyce out the door, but it does leave the door ajar for his departure. If a team makes them a good offer, they will not hesitate to deal him, and the odds of that happening may be higher than ever. However, whether Joyce stays in Tampa Bay is less related to DeJesus compared to what other teams think of him and what how much they will be willing to give up to have him. The Rays’ standard to trade Joyce has been lowered versus where it was last season, but will a suitable offer come along?