As Ken Rosenthal has tweeted, the Rays have signed utility man Jayson Nix to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Nix figures to compete for one of the final two Rays’ bench spots as a utility infielder/outfielder.
Nix spent last season with the New York Yankees, hitting to a .236/.308/.311 line (70 wRC+) while spending time at second base, third base, and shortstop. For his career, he has hardly been inspiring with the bat, posting a .218/.290/.358 line in 1374 plate appearances. He especially struggles against right-handed pitching, managing just a .602 OPS for his career, but he has been solid against lefties, managing a .727 OPS. With the Rays featuring a pair of hitters in David DeJesus and Matt Joyce that are virtually unplayable against lefties, Nix could be in the mix to platoon with them. Nix has also stolen 19 bases in 24 attempts the last two years to add another dimension to his game. But the primary reason that Nix has been able to see extended time in the big leagues is his defense. We know the Rays value versatility, and Nix has experience at second base, shortstop, third base, and both corner outfield spots. Not only does he offer the ability to play all these positions, but UZR generally ranks him as a good defender. Between his hitting against lefties, speed, and defense, Nix has the ability to be a valuable utility player for the Rays.
Nix might just have the inside track at winning the final infield bench role if the Rays do not sign another player. As it was, it seemed as if players such as Vince Belnome and Cole Figueroa had the best chances of making the roster as the final infielder, but none of these players had big league experience, and the Rays were expected to bring in further competition. Now, the Rays have found themselves a player with experience and decent ability. Nix could also end up providing depth in the minor leagues if the Rays elect to give the final roster spot to another player, although Chris Cotillo does tweet he can opt out of his deal if another Major League job is available. But, Nix has the flexibility that Joe Maddon loves to use, and seems to be the Rays quintessential utility man. One thing to note is that Nix has spent the last three years in the AL East between the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. He should be familiar with most of the AL East pitchers, which is just one more plus to his signing. Of course, he would take up a 40-man roster spot if he made the team, so the Rays would have to designated another player for assignment, but they would have no problem with that if Nix proves worthy of a roster spot.
Overall, this is a great move by Andrew Friedman once again. Jayson Nix comes with absolutely no risk, as he could simply see time in the minors or be released if he does not make the team out of spring training. Specific monetary terms of the deal have not been released, but even if he makes the big league team and sticks the entire year, Nix will likely make under $1 million dollars. He is certainly affordable to the budget-minded Rays and should be well worth the cost. If the Rays do not sign another player, Nix will be a favorite to make the roster out of spring training. He would provide a starting option against left-handers, as well as a valuable bench piece to give Joe Maddon flexibility with the lineup. This move adds just one more solid piece to an already exciting 2014 Rays team.