When the Tampa Bay Rays non-tendered Sam Fuld, it was a heartbreaking moment for Rays fans. Fuld had been involved in so many memorable moments since coming over as the throw-in in the Matt Garza trade, and it would be downright bizarre to have a Rays season without him involved. But the Rays let him go nevertheless, and now Fuld is out on the market looking for another job. Five teams are reportedly interested, although none is willing to offer him a major league deal. Is it possible despite everything that the Rays could bring him back?
Every team in baseball loves minor league deals because the risk is so small. You invite a player to spring training, and he either makes your team and receives a low salary or fails to make it and heads elsewhere. It’s always nice to have a fallback of a player who will agree to head to Triple-A, but in higher-profile cases, that is not usually what occurs. The issue with a minor league deal, however, is that you need to have something to offer them to cause them to sign with you and not something else. You can propose a slightly larger salary should they make the team, but that only means so much. They only thing they care about is a realistic opportunity for big league playing time, providing them with both satisfaction and the possibility of increasing their salary in the future. Do the Rays have such an opportunity to offer Sam Fuld?
The Rays are going to need a fourth outfielder for next season, just like they have in years past. The description of that role, however, has changed dramatically. The Rays are not looking for not just a backup and defensive replacement but a player who could start games against left-handed pitching and hold his own. The good news is that Sam Fuld, despite being a lefty hitter, has batted better against lefties than righties in his career. That being said, the Rays want a player who can provide legitimate offense when he does see time, and that is not who Fuld is. Fuld has gained acclaim as a 25th man, a great corner outfield defender and pinch-runner with a knack for getting clutch hits once a blue moon. Except for a brief stretch in April of 2011, Fuld has never been a player well-suited to start too many games. But even if Fuld is not perfect for what the Rays want, is there still a spot for him?
The Rays’ best in-house option for their fourth outfielder spot is Brandon Guyer. The issue is that Guyer hasn’t had an injury-free season since 2009. Guyer has his talent, showing power, speed, and strong defensive ability, and now that he is out of options, the Rays could finally give him his chance. But it doesn’t matter if he can’t stay healthy. At the very least, Fuld could be insurance for Guyer in case of further injury. We can’t possibly think, though, that Fuld would jump if the Rays told him that was all they could offer him.
Is it possible that the Rays could accommodate both Guyer and Fuld on their roster if necessary? Let’s take a look at what the Rays’ roster construction looks like at this point and try to figure that out.
Pitchers (12): David Price*, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer, Joel Peralta, Alex Torres, Jake McGee, Heath Bell, Juan Carlos Oviedo, and two among Mark Lowe, Josh Lueke, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes, and Jeff Beliveau
*Should Price be traded, Jake Odorizzi or a prospect acquired in the deal will replace him.
Add up all the players, and you have 24, leaving one more spot. But even if we say that Guyer is already a lock to make the roster, the Rays still need one more right-handed hitter. The Rays are currently lined up to have Sean Rodriguez platoon with Matt Joyce at designated hitter. Here’s the issue: Rodriguez is the Rays’ only backup infielder at this point. If Rodriguez was playing DH, then the Rays would have to lose their DH if any infielder but Loney got hurt. That means that the Rays would need to have Guyer, a stronger outfield defender than Rodriguez, play DH with Rodriguez in left field to replace DeJesus, an inefficient allocation of resources. That also goes without saying that Rodriguez is a solid hitter against left-handed pitching but nothing special, and the Rays can certainly do better than that. If the Rays sign one more right-handed hitter, Guyer and Rodriguez can both settle into backup roles with their playing time replacing DeJesus in left field dictated by who is playing better. Unless Fuld learned to play the infield this winter, his presence would do little to fix the issue the Rays are currently facing.
The Rays can offer Sam Fuld a possible big league spot should Guyer get hurt. However, that is basically it. Everyone wants depth, and the Rays would be more than happy to give Fuld a roster spot at Triple-A. There has to be some team out there, though, offering him something more. Any interest in Sam Fuld is going to mean that he ends up elsewhere next season. Luckily for Fuld, that interest is present and he is set to head to a team willing to present him with more of an opportunity.