The 2014 Tampa Bay Rays are going to be confronted by an interesting phenomenon: a glut of lefty hitters who will have to be platooned. The Rays know they have two without a doubt–David DeJesus and Matt Joyce–and then there will be two other players worth watching in James Loney and Ben Zobrist. Loney hit lefties in 2013 for the first time since 2009, but the Rays will still likely bench him against some tough lefties. Zobrist, meanwhile, is a switch-hitter, but he struggled against lefties for the first time since 2010, managing just a .643 OPS. Zobrist rebounded to hit extremely well against left-handed pitching in 2011 and 2012, the Rays will also keep an eye on his performance against them. The Rays hope that Zobrist will get back on track and Loney proves he can sustain his 2013 breakthrough, but at the very least, they will need two right-handed bench players and more would be better. Sean Rodriguez is one clear option and Brandon Guyer looks like the favorite for another spot, but the Rays will hope to find one more right-handed bat, and one who can play third base would be preferable. One interesting option to fill such a role could be Scott Sizemore.
The last time Scot Sizemore was healthy, he was playing the best baseball of his career. Traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Oakland Athletics in May of 2011, Sizemore hit to a .249/.345/.433 line (114 OPS+) in 355 plate appearances, drilling 21 doubles and 11 homers while driving in 52. He was especially good against lefties, managing a .294/.391/.437 line in 139 plate appearances. The former top prospect Sizemore had finally panned out, and the A’s thought they had a potential starting third baseman for years to come. But then the injuries struck, and then didn’t stop. An ACL injury in spring training required surgery, costing Sizemore the 2012 season. Then, after just two games in 2013, Sizemore reinjured the knee, requiring surgery once again. The last two years, Sizemore has played a grand total of two games, and he is surely going to be struck taking a minor league deal for next season. The Rays may have as good of an opportunity to offer him as anyone.
Sizemore was never known as a good defensive second baseman, showing poor hands and a below-average arm. After his knee injuries, having him play there too often could be setting him up to get hurt again. The good news is that the position the Rays really need to have Sizemore play is third base. With the Rays not comfortable with Ben Zobrist or Sean Rodriguez at third, they are lacking the backup they need to allow them to use Evan Longoria at designated hitter enough to keep him healthy. Sizemore truthfully is not a great defender at third either, but he immediately would become the Rays’ most experienced player at the position, and he would able to negate most of his defensive struggles with his hitting. If the Rays do need another second baseman, for instance if Zobrist slides to shortstop to give Yunel Escobar a day off, Rodriguez should be fine to fill that role. Sizemore would also begin to learn first base in spring training and see time at designated hitter as well.
Sizemore, if healthy, represents a major upgrade over the Rays’ current options to platoon with Matt Joyce at DH, and he would have a chance to become a regular player against left-handed pitching with a chance to start some games against righties as well. He man not have quite the versatility the Rays are looking for, but not many players are available on minor league deals that possess Sizemore’s upside at the plate. Sizemore became known in the Tigers system for his smooth line drive swing and solid power, and he was able to turn that potential into reality in that 2011 season for the A’s. He is worth an opportunity to see whether that offensive ability is something he can get back to as he puts his injuries behind him.
The best part about any potential Sizemore signing is that after all of his injuries, he will be as motivated as ever to find his way to a big league role and could even be willing to go to Triple-A for a period of time. The Rays could bring Sizemore to spring training, and if he does not make the team, he could head to Triple-A Durham with an eye on getting his game up to speed after the injuries. Sizemore has his flaws, and his injuries remain a serious concern, but signing him comes along with minuscule risk and the offensive potential he still retains makes him worth a chance. Sizemore’s knee surguries could mark the end of his career as a second baseman, and that will limit the enthusiasm of the teams pursuing him. However, if Sizemore wants big league playing time for next season nevertheless, there is no better place for him to go than Tampa Bay.