Reunion Tour: Rays to Pursue Free Agent Cantu?

By Robbie Knopf

Before Evan Longoria, there was Jorge Cantu. Wait, what?

In 2005, Cantu’s first full season in the major leagues, he had an incredible season, hitting .286 with 40 doubles, 28 homers, 117 RBI, and a .497 SLG in 150 games. His OBP was bad (.311) and his defense was horrendous (he was worth -2.6 dWAR according to Baseball-Reference, putting his overall WAR on the season at -0.3), but it was an unforgettable season. After a couple of less notable years with the D-Rays and Reds, Cantu’s start signed again with the Rays’ in-state rival Florida Marlins in 2008 when he posted a .277/.327/.481 line with 41 doubles, 29 homers, and 95 RBI in 155 games. He followed that up with a .289/.345/.443 effort in 2009 with 42 doubles, 16 homers, and 100 RBI in 149 games in 2009. After that, he fell off the map with the Marlins, Rangers, and Padres the past two seasons and settled for a minor league deal with the Angels this past season. He posted a .291/.300/.488 line with 5 doubles, 4 homers, and 22 RBI in 21 games for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake Bees, to begin this year before exercising his up-out clause yesterday after not being promoted to the big leagues. Does it make any sense for the Rays to go after Cantu?

Jorge Cantu may be an execrable defender, but as a Rays homegrown player should be, he’s versatile, having made 337 career starts at third base, 211 at second base, 185 at first base, and even one at shortstop back in 2004. He’s passable at first, bad at second and short, and heart-wrenchingly bad at third base (-30.0 career UZR). Cantu hasn’t hit for a couple of years now, but he’s due for another nice hitting season after his customary two years in exile following his nice ’08-’09 run. A few problems though: 1) his defense 2) his defense 3) the Rays don’t have a roster spot for him and 4) he doesn’t draw walks. All that aside, if Cantu is willing to return to the Rays on a minor league contract, they should be all means accept because you never know what can happen. Cantu could hypothetically replace the weak-hitting Elliot Johnson with a more potent bat, albeit with less versatility defensively and less defensive prowess. I’d say a Cantu reunion is unlikely, but don’t completely rule it out. He’s 30 years old and  should be in his prime. The Rays could see Cantu is another upside signing, and who knows? Maybe he could get a call-up after an injury and prove to the baseball world that he still has something in the tank.