Jayson Nix has made an Opening Day roster out of spring training. The catch: that Opening Day roster will not be that of the team in which he spent the entire spring, the Tampa Bay Rays. Instead, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired him from the Rays for cash considerations and announced him as a member of their 25-man roster. The cash may not seem like much, but the fact that the Rays were able to get anything at all for a player who had very little chance of making their team was quite impressive.
In previous years, it would have been extremely difficult for Jayson Nix to not make the Rays. We have seen over the years that the Rays have an insatiable appetite for depth, and the easiest way to do that would have to add Nix to the roster. Logan Forsythe could have been optioned to Triple-A, and the Rays would have had three major league-quality infielders ready to go instead of two. The downside of that, though, is that Nix is an inferior player to Forsythe based on what the Rays need him to do. Jayson Nix’s value as a player is a solid defensive shortstop who can provide decent production against left-handed pitching. Nix can play several positions, but his ability at shortstop makes his stand out–he certainly plays the position much better than Forsythe and Rodriguez. On the Rays, however, that is pretty much irrelevant. Yunel Escobar is the Rays’ starting shortstop once again this year, and as a right-handed hitter, only on rare occasions will he get a day off against a lefty. When the Rays do need a backup for him, they do not need it to be one of their utility players because Ben Zobrist can slide over to shortstop with one of the utility players manning second base. Nix’s advantage over Forsythe was negated, and he was left as an inferior hitter whose slightly better defense than Forsythe at second base and third base was not enough to make a difference. If the Rays went with Jayson Nix over Logan Forsythe, they would have ended up with a slightly worse team. How much would that cost the Rays over the course of the season? Likely around one win, with two being the absolute maximum. The difference is not huge. But what was the point of doing that when the Rays knew they did not need Nix for depth purposes?
Sean Rodriguez and Logan Forsythe will begin the season as the Rays’ backup infielders, and should anything happen to one of them, the Rays have several players they can resort to. Vince Belnome is already on the 40-man roster, and while he is a different type a player than Rodriguez and Forsythe–a lefty hitter with a strong bat–you know Joe Maddon would no issue mixing him in just fine. The Rays do need a couple of right-handed hitters on the bench to platoon with Matt Joyce and David DeJesus, but as long as they have too such players (for example Rodriguez and Brandon Guyer), they have flexibility with the third spot. Wilson Betemit is a player that has experience quite a bit of success at the major league level, and the Rays will be lucky enough to have him stashed at Triple-A to begin the year. Mike Fontenot is another big league veteran at Triple-A, and then there is Cole Figueroa, who may not have the bat of the players ahead of them but draws outstanding reviews for his defense and character. With three players of that caliber available when needed, the Rays had no reason to go crazy to maintain their depth.
Jayson Nix is a deserving major league player. It is great to see him finding a roster spot with the Phillies. However, the fact that the Rays can let such a player go without fear of it hurting them later on says a lot about how confident the Rays are about their 25-man roster and beyond this season.