The Yankees dominated Hot Stove news yesterday with their seven-year, $155 million contract for Masashiro Tanaka. The Rays, meanwhile, made a small but still quite interesting move, trading relief sensation Alex Torres to the San Diego Padres for backup infielder Logan Forsythe and four prospects.
As we have discussed here at Rays Colored Glasses, the prospects may very have been the keys to the deal. But right now, let’s talk about Forsythe and what he means for the Rays’ current backup infielder and corner outfielder, Sean Rodriguez. Rodriguez and Forsythe play many of the same positions. In 2013, Forsythe played second, third, short, right and left field. Rodriguez played all the same positions except third base, replacing it by playing first base. Both Rodriguez and Forsythe have value as utility players who hit left-handed pitching well. Most teams wouldn’t keep two such players on their roster. Does this mean Rodriguez is a trade candidate? The Rays, however, are not your average team, and Joe Maddon is not your average manager.
Adding Forsythe to the current roster gives Maddon three players–Forsythe, Rodriguez, and Ben Zobrist–who can play anywhere on the field except centerfield and catcher. That flexibility would allow Maddon to create even more targeted lineup matches than he did in 2013. Imagine a scenario where the Rays face a dominant left-hander. They could start Evan Longoria at DH with Forsythe at third and Rodriguez at first spelling James Loney. But it is not just Longoria that the Rays could put at DH. Rodriguez and Forsythe give the Rays two players that could help them rest literally any player in their lineup except for catcher Ryan Hanigan. Even if centerfielder Desmond Jennings needs a day off, the Rays could move Wil Myers or David DeJesus to center for a day and sub in Rodriguez or Forsythe at their natural second. The right-handed DH role does not look great for the Rays right now, but between Rodriguez and Forsythe’s ability to hit lefties and the extra rest that the rest of the lineup would get to keep them fresh, it could in fact become a positive situation.
Just because the Rays might keep both Forsythe and Rodriguez doesn’t mean they will if an opportunity presents itself. Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman will continue to look to improve the team to compete in a tough AL East. What we can say is that the Forsythe deal has intensified the competition for the last couple of spots on the roster, and that Rodriguez, Brandon Guyer, Jayson Nix, and Kevin Kiermaier will have to fight that much harder to make the Rays’ roster.
Forsythe’s acquisition does improve Kiermaier’s chances to make the roster. If Forsythe and Rodriguez are on the roster, the Rays will still need a backup centerfielder, either Guyer or Kiermaier. The case for Kiermaier is simple: why do the Rays need three right-handed bench players? Kiermaier, whom Andrew Friedman called “the best defensive outfielder in the organization,” could make a strong case for that 25th spot, backing up all three outfield spots and also pinch-running. Guyer looks like the odd man out. The other side of the coin, though, is that the Rays would like to keep developing Kiermaier in the minors and Guyer is out of options, meaning the Rays would have to expose him to waivers to send him to the minor leagues. But things get even crazier when we factor in that Forsythe has a minor league option of his own, giving the Rays additional flexibility as they decide how to fill out their roster. There are no guarantees for anyone heading into spring training, and it will be interesting to see how the competition shakes out.