Aug 28, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Matt Joyce (20) hits a sacrifice RBI during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Joyce Remains in Rays' Plans–How Will They Use Him?

Rays GM Andrew Friedman said in a recent interview that his role at this week’s GM meetings was to gather intelligence and see where the market was heading for free agents. One surprising statement Friedman made was that Matt Joyce remained in their plans, despite their recent signing of David DeJesus to a three year, $10 million deal. What could those plans be?

The past few years, Matt Joyce has been an extremely streaky player. His inconsistency has only increased as the years have gone on. Joyce has declined in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage since his All-Star season of 2011, showing flashes of potential but always taking a step back whenever he seems to have turned a corner. That certainly does not mean, though, that Joyce does not have any talent. His 18 homers ranked third on the team, and he also swiped 7 bases in 10 tries despite so-so speed. He draws walks, walking 59 times in 2013 after 55 in 2012, and he does not even strike out very much, going down on strikes just 87 times in 2013, cutting that mark down from 102 in 2013. At 29 years old, Joyce is in his prime and you have to think that good years are ahead. But where does Joyce fit on this team right now?

With DeJesus back for at least the next two years, the Rays don’t have any opening in the outfield against right-handed pitching. Joyce can’t play center, and Wil Myers is cemented in right field with DeJesus in left occupying the role Joyce has filled in years past. Joyce’s playing time in the outfield seems to be limited at best. It will be up to Joe Maddon and the Rays to be creative finding Joyce at-bats, and you know that will be something Maddon will enjoy doing.

Currently, the Rays have openings at first base and designated hitter. Joyce has never played first base, and he has just 35 career starts at designated hitter. But especially the way the rest of the offseason goes, the Rays could shift him into more of a first base/DH role with his time on the outfield appearing limited. Joyce and James Loney didn’t mix as left-handed hitters, but if the Rays sign a right-handed first baseman, suddenly Joyce could be the starting half of the Rays’ games at the position if he plays well. The Rays also have to figure out what they are doing at designated hitter, but if they bring back Delmon Young or a different right-handed hitter, Joyce could find his way to plenty of time there as well. Aside from that, Joyce could spell all three of the Rays’ outfielders (with Myers moving to center if he replaces Jennings against a tough right-handed), and act as insurance in case of injuries. The formula to get Joyce his playing time would not be nearly as simple, but at the end of the day, if the Rays sign a right-handed hitter at DH or first base this offseason, Joyce could get just as much playing time as before.

After earning $2.45 million going into last season, Joyce’s salary is not due for a significant bump in his second time through arbitraiton. He may not be making pennies on the dollar anymore, but he is a talented player who still will not be making that much, and the Rays have every reason to keep him around unless they get blown away by a trade offer. Joyce’s struggles have cost him the opportunity to be a starting outfielder, and 2014 may see him playing other positions more than the outfield for the first time in his professional career. But at the end of the day, he can really hit left-handed pitching, and the Rays will move players around if necessary to take advantage of that as much as they can.

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