Rays Notes: Ben Francisco Acquired, Suarez, Rhymes DFA’d, Niemann Up in the Air
By Robbie Knopf
The Rays have been busy the past few days, swinging a trade before the August 31st waiver trade deadline, designating two players for assignment, and playing two crazy games. Let’s look at the Rays’ latest news items.
On Friday, the Rays acquired 30 year old outfielder Ben Francisco for the Rays in exchange for a player to be named. Francisco, who many of you remember from his time with the Indians and Phillies, is now on his third team in 2012 and fourth in the last 12 months as he was traded from the Phillies to the Blue Jays to the Astros and now to the Rays. Francisco gives the Rays an experienced backup outfielder for September who can do a bunch of different things. Francisco can play both corner outfield positions and has a .258/.328/.425 career batting line over the past 6 seasons including a .244/292/.370 mark in 2012. Francisco has a little pop, slamming 15 homers each in his only full major league seasons in 2008 and 2009, and he also can run a little bit, swiping 14 bases in 2009 and going 8 for 8 in steals in 2010. Francisco also has a solid .259/.352/.398 career line as a pinch-hitter, which is a role that he could play for the Rays quite a bit as a right-handed bat. The Rays acquired Francisco for next to nothing and they hope he’ll give them some quality at-bats in September. Francisco popped out in his first Rays at-bat on Saturday.
Francisco actually is arbitration eligible for the third and final time this coming offseason after making $1,537,000 in 2012, little of which is being paid for by the Rays. I don’t see any way that the Rays retain Francisco following the season with Sam Fuld being their 4th outfielder (and as we know, so much more) and Francisco making more than chump change, and he will likely be non-tendered.
In order to make room for Francisco and Jeff Niemann on the 40-man roster, the Rays designated right-hander Albert Suarez and infielder Will Rhymes for assignment.
Suarez, 22, was signed out of Venezuela by the Rays way back in 2006, was having a pretty decent year at High-A Charlotte, going 5-9 with a 4.08 ERA, a 4.4 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 25 starts and 125.2 IP. Suarez, who is 6’2″, 235, was consistently in the 93-94 MPH range back in 2009 before undergoing Tommy John Surgery and he also missed much of 2009 with Lyme disease in his left knee. His velocity has been inconsistent since then, and he has never really gotten the consistency the Rays would have liked to see in his curveball and changeup. The Rays put him on the 40-man roster to prevent him from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft in 2010. The Rays have designated Suarez for assignment, meaning not necessarily that they want to get rid of him, but that they want to remove him from the 40-man roster. The Rays hope that Suarez will pass through waivers and remain in the organization. Suarez still has some upside if he can regain his pre-injury sharpness, but there wasn’t any point of wasting a 40-man roster spot on a questionable prospect not nearly big league ready down at A-ball.
The one interesting thing with Suarez getting DFA’d is that the Rays decided to designate him as opposed to a player in an extremely similar situation, fellow 22 year old Venezuelan right-hander Wilking Rodriguez. Rodriguez was added to the 40-man roster this past offseason for the same reason Suarez was added the year before, to prevent him from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Rodriguez, a smaller pitcher at 6’1″, 180, made just 7 starts in 2012 for High-A Charlotte, going 0-4 with a 5.56 ERA, a 7.7 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 34 innings pitched. Rodriguez has dealt with a lot of shoulder problems over the last two years that have held him to just 18 starts and 79 innings. Doesn’t Rodriguez seem worse than Suarez given that he has been injured much more over the last two seasons and is even farther from helping the big league team? The answer to that is yes based on the stats, but the Rays choosing Rodriguez over Suarez has a lot more to do with Rodriguez’s stuff than anything else. Rodriguez throws a fastball that touches the mid-90’s with natural sink when he’s right, and he complements it with a big high-70’s curveball and a solid changeup. His arsenal is the same as Suarez, but the difference is that Rodriguez frankly misses a ton more bats than Suarez. Rodriguez’s 8.2 career K/9 dwarfs Suarez’s 5.5 mark. Even if Suarez has been a little bit more healthy the past two years, Rodriguez has never undergone Tommy John Surgery, and even though he’s currently out, he has the ability to help the big league team within a couple of seasons, especially if he’s converted into a relief role. The Rays hope to keep both Suarez and Rodriguez, but they have made clear that they believe Rodriguez has more of a future with their ballclub. Rodriguez has to feel pretty good about himself right now.
Will Rhymes, 29, appeared in 47 games for the Rays this season, posting a .228/.299/.285 line in 137 plate appearances. He posted a .256/.326/.390 line in 46 games for the Triple-A Durham Bulls. Rhymes can play second and third base and he’s a decent player, but he is not a great hitter and he can’t play shortstop either, making him expendable as he would not receive much playing time if the Rays called him up for September. The Rays like Rhymes’ character, and he was not the worst injury fill-in in the world, but they’re giving him a shot in another organization. With the minor league season basically over, you would expect Rhymes to elect free agency even if he passes through waivers in the hope that some major league team gives him a shot in September. Good luck to Rhymes wherever he ends up.
The Rays had to be feeling pretty good about themselves when Jeff Niemann began mowing down the Blue Jays in his first major league game since May. But after recording the first out of the fourth inning, Niemann suddenly had to leave the game and was replaced by J.P. Howell. Niemann’s injury was curiously described later in the game as “arm tightness.” Joe Maddon explained what was going on following the game.
"“He just didn’t feel right. There’s no way when a pitcher tells you his arm is a little sore you’re going to leave him out there.”"
Niemann’s injury is just a day-to-day thing and hopefully he’ll be OK to make his next start. When exactly that will be is up in the air as the Rays will have to decide how to utilize their 6 starters over the rest of the season. The good thing about that is that Niemann will be able to wait as long as he needs to make his start.