After acquiring Ryan Hanigan from the Cincinnati Reds this past offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays entered 2014 with as much confidence about their catching situation as they have in their history. Instead, Hanigan cooled off from his hot start and is currently on the disabled list for the second time this season. We thought the streak would end, but this year marks the third straight season that Jose Molina will be the Rays’ primary catcher, and that is not an ideal scenario. Curt Casali is currently his backup, but he has just 3 hits in his first 25 to career at-bats and has a below-average arm behind the plate. Do the Rays have any other options as they hope to hold down the fort until Hanigan returns? As it turns out, an alternative just fell right into their grasp as former Ray Chris Gimenez has cleared waivers and is free to sign with any team. The Rays are even interested in a possible reunion. But should they actually sign him?
One thing we can say with certainty is that Ali Solis is a wasted spot on the Rays’ 40-man roster. Solis has appeared with the Rays this season, but considering that he hasn’t managed an OPS of even .560 in the minor leagues since 2012, he is not a real big league option. Chris Gimenez would be an obvious improvement over Solis as he has a .262/.326/.348 line (89 OPS+) in 231 big league plate appearances the last three years. You can make the small sample size argument, but it seems like an impossibility that Solis could ever manage numbers like that even in a limited sample. In addition, Gimenez has the versatility to play positions other than catcher, providing the Rays with the type of flexibility they love having. There is one thing, though, that Solis has that Gimenez does not: minor league options. The Rays could theoretically sign Gimenez to a minor league contract, but if they are going to convince him to join their team, he will certainly want to be added to their big league roster in short order, making options a legitimate consideration.
Casali has found some moments in recent games, but if the Rays are still attempting to contend, Gimenez would be a better option on their roster. While Casali may have more potential at the plate, Gimenez is better now and would allow Casali to continue refining his talents at Triple-A. Adding Gimenez to their roster would be easy for the Rays–all they would need to do is option Casali to Triple-A and designate Solid for assignment. However, what will happen when Hanigan returns from the disabled list?
A Jose Molina-Chris Gimenez tandem would be the best the Rays can manage while Hanigan is out. When Hanigan comes back, though, the Rays could not send Gimenez down to Triple-A without exposing him to waivers. How concerned should they be about that? The answer: not very much. Gimenez isn’t a long-term player for the Rays anyway, so if they lose him, it would not be the worst thing. In addition, losing him may not even be likely. After he passed through waivers this time, there is a decent chance that he will pass through again, and the Rays could easily keep him if they guarantee him a September call-up. With September just a few weeks away, though, there is a possibility that designating Gimenez for assignment may not even be necessary. Hanigan suffered a setback in his rehab, so we are not quite sure when he will return.
At the end of the day, bringing back Chris Gimenez is a no-brainer for the Tampa Bay Rays. He can help their team immediately and they may not even have to lose him to waivers. Gimenez certainly does not qualify as a season savior, but he can improve the Rays’ catching situation right now, and the Rays need all the help they can get as they hope to make a postseason run.