With the signing of James Loney, the Tampa Bay Rays have basically solidified their starting lineup for 2014, with only a right handed hitting left fielder and designated hitter remaining to be obtained. But even if the Rays’ acquistions are winding down, the Rays still have plenty of moves to make with the players they have. Their 40-man roster has a bunch of spare parts that need to find a place on the 2014 team or else be traded away. Let’s take a look at those players and figure out what their fate will be.
Matt Joyce: Joyce was seemingly expendable when the Rays extended David DeJesus for two years plus a team option, but the Rays tendered him a contract and have kept him along thus far. Joe Maddon talked about a four-man outfield/designated rotation allowing Joyce to have just as many plate appearances as before. That sounds nice on paper but will not work in practice. Joyce has spent four mostly forgettable years with the Rays. He can’t hit left handed pitching to save his soul and even against right-handers he is a boom-or-bust guy. Combine that with unimpressive defense, and you have an unimpressive player. Having Joyce on the team means the Rays need a right handed hitter to platoon with him. Can Maddon make it work? Yes he can. But it is far from an ideal situation, and trading Joyce and replacing him with a free agent could be their best option.
Sean Rodriguez: Another flawed ball player who has, like Joyce, spent four forgettable years with the Rays. He can’t hit right handed pitching and is limited as a utility man. It was more than just team needs that caused Rodriguez to play primarily left field and first base in 2013–he has proven year after year that he does not have the arm strength to play shortstop and third baseman, and causes his value to take a sharp hit. He might match up with DeJesus or Joyce as the right-handed end of a platoon, but his versatility is not as impressive as it seems and the Rays can find a better-hitting bench player than him without much of a hassle.
Jose Lobaton: Jose must have dropped his dish of ice cream when he learned that the Rays had signed aging Jose Molina to a two-year deal and traded for Ryan Hanigan and extendedh im for three years. Talk about going from emerging prospect and ice cream hero to out of a job in a heartbeat. Seems unfair, but now as much so when we take into account that Lobaton turned 29 in October and has major defensive deficiencies. At any rate, Lobaton’s career as a Ray is done. He’s out of options and there is no chance he cracks the Rays’ roster to begin 2014. Expect a trade.
Bullpen Duo: The Rays seem to lead the majors in signing sore-armed relief pitchers. However, they never mention two of their own healthy relievers, Cesar Ramos and Josh Lueke. The Rays have only four jobs filled with Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee and Alex Torres, and while Juan Carlos Oviedo and Mark Lowe represent other possibilities, positions are still available. However, Ramos and Lueke don’t seem to be under strong consideration for those positions. Ramos spent 2013 in the Rays bullpen as a mop-up man, showing decent numbers but never advancing beyond that job. His average leverage index of .432 was the lowest among all major league relievers minimum 45 innings pitched. Lueke was lights out as a AAA closer but failed in his few shots in the show. How many more chances will he get? They are both out of options. Are they in the Rays plans? At this point, they may be only last resorts.
So what will the Tampa Bay Rays do with these five players? Lobaton is clearly gone–that is not even a question. With the remaining foursome, we can see how it plays out and depend on Joe Maddon to get the most out of this group. Joyce and Rodriguez might platoon at DH and Ramos and Lueke could make the team as middle to long relievers. However, the best course of action is for Andrew Friedman to aim for more and add in a legitimate designated hitter and a quality setup option in to the mix. Stay tuned!