The Rays Internal Options
By David Hill
It is generally assumed that the Tampa Bay Rays will be making numerous moves to address the deficiencies they had last year in their lineup. By already anointing Ben Zobrist as the starting shortstop, the Rays have already taken care of one of their potential holes. Now, it is widely thought that they will focus on finding a catcher, a first baseman, a center fielder, and possibly a right fielder, either through free agency or via trading some of their pitching depth.
Yet, what if the Rays decide not to? As their rotation is going to start to get expensive in the near future, with David Price entering his second year of arbitration and Jeremy Hellickson one year away, they may not have as much payroll flexibility as commonly thought. Or, it may be possible that they look to save money this year, so as to be able to afford that rotation in the years to come. Should the Rays follow the second option, they would then need to look at their internal options, and see what they have.
Even though Zobrist may not be playing as much in right field as he has over the past few seasons, the Rays may still be in good shape there. Matt Joyce has been an All-Star and is going to be only 28 at the start of the season. While Joyce has been up and down over the past three seasons, hitting .241 in 2009 and 2011, he has displayed the potential to hit 20 home runs over the course of a full season. Naturally, Joyce would need to remain healthy over the course of the season, yet he could provide a solid bat in the middle of the lineup if he is able to do so.
Center field really depends on what the Rays decide to do with Desmond Jennings. Should Jennings remain in left, then the Rays may end up looking at Sam Fuld as their center fielder. Fuld, while not much of a hitter, has tremendous speed, and has displayed an ability to make highlight reel plays in the outfield. However, should the Rays end up with Jennings in center, then it is possible that Brandon Guyer could get a chance, leaving Fuld as the fourth outfielder, which may be where he would be best suited. While Guyer has not hit well in his two brield trials for the Rays, four of his nine hits have been for extra bases, with three home runs. However, Guyer has displayed a solid ability to hit in the minors with a career batting line of .297/.360/.476, along with 131 doubles and 48 home runs. If Guyer has fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum suffered on May 12th, then he may get a long look during Spring Training.
First base could be an interesting battle between Leslie Anderson and Henry Wrigley. Anderson was signed to a four year contract after defecting from Cuba, and was expected to already be a productive bat in the Rays lineup. However, he has yet to crack the major league roster, and has been considered a bit of a disappointment. Yet, in 2012, he put together a solid year offensively, while playing both corner outfield positions and first base. Wrigley was somewhat of a late bloomer in the minors, having produced fairly pedestrian numbers until 2010, when he began hitting in the .270 to .285 range, with a bit of power. Both players have flaws, as neither walks very often, and Wrigley does have a tendency to strike out. Yet, it is possible that one of these two may be starting at first base in 2013.
Meanwhile at catcher, the internal options are roughly the same as last year. Jose Molina had his moments last year, and finished strongly down the stretch with a .325/.372/.600 batting line with three home runs for the month of September, yet is a far better fit as a backup catcher. Jose Lobaton and Chris Gimenez also had their moments, but niehter were really able to do much with their opportunities. Robinson Chirinos, who missed all of last season with a severe concussion, may get a look as well.
While the Rays internal options may not compare to some of the players that could be available via free agency or through trades, the Rays do have some options that may pan out. Depending on what direction the front office takes this offseason, some of these players may get a chance to seize a starting role in 2013.