Rays Make First Real Offseason Acquisitions, Sign Mike Fontenot and Rich Thompson
By Robbie Knopf
The Rays are officially starting to make things happen. Their first real move wasn’t exactly a high-profile trade like what has been rumored, but they managed to sign two players with the ability to help their big league team next season, infielder Mike Fontenot and outfielder Rich Thompson.
Fontenot, 32, was actually a Rays draft picks way back in 1999, although he did not sign. Fontenot spent 2012 with the Phillies, posting a .289/.343/.340 line (86 OPS+) in 47 games and 105 plate appearances before he was designated for assignment in August. Fontenot actually appeared in the same amount of games in 2012 as a player who fits a similar physical profile to him, Will Rhymes. Fontenot is 5’8″, 165 while Rhymes is 5’9″, 155. That’s where the parallels end. For his career, Fontenot has a .265/.332/.401 line (92 OPS+) in 1586 plate appearances. Fontenot has surprising power for his size, slamming 18 home runs for the Cubs between 2008 and 2009. His power comes with a few too many strikeouts while his plate discipline is just average. On the basepaths, Fontenot has solid speed that he shows through good baserunning, taking an extra base 41% of the time for his career, a tick above league average, but he has never been a real stolen base threat, stealing just 17 of 27 bases in his career. It would be interesting to see if the Rays could work with him on that since stealing bases is such a crucial part of their offense. Defensively, Fontenot has the versatility the Rays like, being a primary second baseman with 83 games at third base and 50 at shortstop as well, and he also has played left field a couple times in the minor leagues. Fontenot is a good second baseman, posting a 4.7 career UZR/150 primarily thanks to great range, but he’s not nearly as good at third base or shortstop in smaller samples (-6.7 and -7.0 UZR/150’s respectively) with a lack of arm strength being an issue. Overall, Fontenot is a solid hitter, definitely giving him a leg up compared to several of the utility types we’ve seen on the Rays over the years, and his ability to play a good second base and at least fake shortstop and third base is certainly an asset for him.
In Fontenot, the Rays could conceivably have found a player who could receive starts for them at second base. Fontenot, a left-handed hitter, has a career .273/.339/.412 line versus right-handed pitching and the Rays could view use him second base platoon with the right-hand hitting Ryan Roberts or even have have Fontenot play a part in replacing Roberts if Roberts is non-tendered (more on that later today). Fontenot floundered in his only year as anything near a starter back in 2008, posting a 73 OPS+ in 419 plate appearances, but he has a 90 OPS+ in 618 plate appearances since then and if all else fails he could be a halfway-decent option. It does seem unlikely that the Rays will count on Fontenot for anything at this point, but considering his ability to hit for some power he does have some upside and could force his way into big league playing time. Fontenot is the type of utility player the Rays love to sign but his power gives them the potential for more of a return.
Thompson, who will turn 34 in April, had to be appreciative when the Rays gave him an opportunity in the big leagues for the first time since 2004 and decided to re-sign exactly a month after declining an assignment to Triple-A and electing free agency. Thompson went just 2 for 22 in 23 games for the Rays but did steal 6 of 8 bases including two in his first career MLB start, when he also went 1 for 3 with a walk and an RBI in an inspiring day at the Trop. Thompson posted a .310/.376/.419 line with 17 doubles, 7 triples, 2 homers, 30 RBI, 29 of 36 stolen bases, and 53 strikeouts against 29 walks in 93 Triple-A games and 284 plate appearances between the Phillies and Rays organization. Thompson’s complete lack of power limits what he can do, but he has plus speed and can play all three outfield positions capably so he could be back in the big leagues as a pinch-runner and 4th outfielder at some point and add to his already remarkable story.