After the Rays agreed to a minor league contract with Jayson Nix, we heard that he had an out-clause in his contract if he didn’t make the Rays’ roster and a big league opportunity was available elsewhere. From the start, we see that Nix’s deal may be “minor league” in name only–he wants to be on a big league roster, whether it’s the Rays or elsewhere. It is clear that the Rays would not have signed him if they didn’t think that was a high probability that he would earn a spot on their team out of spring training. With that in mind, what are the chances that Nix does make the team and what does his presence tell us about the Rays’ plans the rest of the offseason?
The Rays are likely going to carry 12 pitches and 13 position players on their 2014 roster. They will have five starters, with the only question being whether David Price is traded, and seven relievers. Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, Alex Torres, Heath Bell, and Juan Carlos Oviedo are five locks, and then Mark Lowe, Cesar Ramos, Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes, and Jeff Beliveau lead the competition for the last two spots. Then on the position player front, the Rays have their starting players locked in at every position but designated hitter. They are counting on Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, and James Loney on the infield, David DeJesus, Desmond Jennings, and Wil Myers in the outfield, and Ryan Hanigan at catcher. Jose Molina will be the backup catcher, and Matt Joyce will be the fourth outfielder while Sean Rodriguez provides infield depth. That leaves two spots, but the Rays have plenty of flexibility as they decided how to fill them.
What is great about the current construction of the Rays is that there is exactly one requirement they need in their last two players: one of them has to be a right-handed hitter who hits lefties fairly well. That’s it. Positions honestly don’t matter at all. Three of the hardest positions to find a good defender at are centerfield, shortstop, and catcher. For centerfield, all three of the Rays’ outfielders have experience in center, so it would not be an issue if Desmond Jennings got hurt and they had to move players around. For shortstop, Ben Zobrist is a rock-solid defender while Sean Rodriguez is serviceable enough. Then at catcher, there is Molina, and then Rodriguez can play there in a pinch–he has been catching bullpens for years now. The only position the Rays would prefer to find another option at is exactly third base–Zobrist isn’t comfortable playing there, while Rodriguez has some experience may not have the arm strength. The Rays would love to have a backup third baseman, but worst-case scenario, they’ll work with Rodriguez at the position and get him good enough that he can spell Evan Longoria every couple of weeks.
The Rays need two players, and right now their best two options are Brandon Guyer and Jayson Nix. Guyer gives them a strong defensive outfielder who bats from the right side while Nix is another righty hitter and strong defender who can handle third. Between Rodriguez, Guyer, and Nix, the Rays would have three hitters to compete for playing time spelling DeJesus and Joyce, and the Rays would be able to pick their matchups and ride the hottest hitters. That is a nice situation–but it is only the most simplistic scenario. Nix and Rodriguez make each other redundant to an extent, so the Rays could look to trade Rodriguez if they can sign a more formidable right-handed hitter. Or if they sign a player with the ability to be a full-time DH, they could look to deal Joyce with Rodriguez and Nix joining Zobrist to give them their most versatile lineup ever. Jayson Nix is not just a virtual lock to make the Rays’ roster, but a potential springboard for other moves. The Rays have their guy in the fold, and it will be exciting to see what they do from here.