He described it as a complex decision, but at the end of the day, Sam Fuld chose to sign with the Oakland Athletics and not the Tampa Bay Rays on a minor league contract. Fuld had a better opportunity to play in the big leagues, an $800,000 salary plus incentives if he does make it, and also two opt-out dates, in March and in June. But despite signing in Oakland, Fuld did not close the door on a return to Tampa Bay via one of his opt-outs. As we discussed earlier, Fuld enters spring training with a realistic opportunity of making the Athletics’ roster. However, should he fail to make the team, a return to the Rays’ active roster would not be the craziest thing in the world.
The current favorite to be the Rays’ 4th outfielder is Brandon Guyer, and with good reason. The 28 year old is out of options and no longer a prospect, but his talent has always been evident. Guyer shows power and speed to go along with solid defense in centerfield and the outfield corners, and he is coming off a strong season at Triple-A even as he recovered from shoulder surgery. Guyer hit to a .301/.374/.458 line with 23 doubles, 6 triples, 7 homers, 41 RBI, and 22 stolen bases in 25 attempts in 405 plate appearances. The Rays see a player with the ability to be a platoon outfielder against left-handed pitching at the very least and maybe even work his way into more time. However, none of that matters if he cannot stay healthy. It is hard to believe that the Rays would designate Guyer for assignment, but there is one other possibility: that he begins the season on the major league disabled list. The last four years, Guyer has dealt with several shoulder injuries, an ankle injury, and a fractured middle finger. The Rays love his talent, but if he gets injured again, they will have to look elsewhere. That is where Fuld comes in.
Beyond Guyer, the candidates for the Rays’ final bench spots include Logan Forsythe, Kevin Kiermaier, Jayson Nix, Wilson Betemit, and at the moment, Jose Lobaton. Of those five, just one of them, Kiermaier, is capable of playing centerfield like Guyer can. The issue with Kiermaier, however, is that he has just 39 games at Triple-A under his belt, and the Rays would like to see him continue developing. If Kiermaier isn’t really a factor in the competition, that makes Guyer a heavy favorite. But what if Guyer gets hurt? If that happens, the Rays could call up one of the players who lost out in the competition, but either they compromise Kiermaier’s development or wind up without a backup capable of playing centerfield. Maybe that is not the worst thing in the world. David DeJesus started 69 games in centerfield in 2013, and he could slide back there if something happens to Desmond Jennings. But further complicating the problem is that both DeJesus and Matt Joyce are both weak against lefty pitching.
Against lefties, Wil Myers could also theoretically play centerfield, but then the Rays would have to figure out both corner outfield spots and DH every single game. The Rays could slide Ben Zobrist to right field with Sean Rodriguez in left, but then they would need two right-handed hitters for second base and DH. Hypothetically, those hitters could be say Forsythe and Nix, but Nix could opt out if he does not make the team and it doesn’t make sense for the Rays to jump through hoops to get to that scenario anyway. (Betemit is a switch-hitter, but he doesn’t hit lefties.) In addition, are the Rays even comfortable moving Zobrist back to the outfield on a semi-regular basis after he settled in at second base last year? The easiest solution would be to have another outfielder who hits lefties that would allow Zobrist to stay at second base, and that outfielder is Sam Fuld. If Brandon Guyer isn’t healthy at the end of spring training and Fuld is not set to make the Athletics’ roster, expect Sam Fuld to return to Tampa Bay and serve as the Rays’ 25th man once again to begin 2014.