Rays Notes: Dan Johnson Could Return, Rays Just Miss on Schierholtz, Rays-Royals Trade Coming Together?
By Robbie Knopf
Rays fans will never forget the contributions that Dan Johnson gave to the Rays in 2010 and 2011, most notably his legendary home run in Game 162. Now, Johnson could be coming back. Johnson, who was recently non-tendered by the Chicago White Sox, is currently a free agent and according to Marc Topkin, he’s interested in coming back to Tampa Bay. Johnson hit .364 in 14 games for the White Sox in 2012, slamming 3 home runs in their 162nd game, after posting a .267/.388/.492 line with 28 homers and a 94-94 strikeout to walk ratio in 587 plate appearances at Triple-A. Johnson is a first baseman by trade and the Rays already have a lefty-hitting first baseman in James Loney. However, they have nothing going on at DH right now. Could the Rays offer Johnson a contract, selling him on the fact that he could be their DH next season? Johnson completely flopped when the Rays tried to give him a starting job in 2011, but on a minor league deal with a salary around say a million dollars should Johnson make the big league team out of spring training could make sense. Topkin noted that it’s likely the Rays or a return to Japan for Johnson, and the Rays could give Johnson a chance while offering him an out-clause if he’s not in the big leagues by a certain date that would allow him to head to Japan if things don’t work out. It’s easy to see a Japanese team offering Johnson a pretty substantial contract (how do you say “he’s the Game 162 hero” in Japanese), but hopefully it works out for him to return to the Rays.
Outfielder Nate Schierholtz signed with the Cubs on a 1-year, 2.25 million dollar contract yesterday, but as it turned out, he came very close to being a Ray. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweeted that the Rays finished a close second to the Cubs in pursuit of Schierholtz. Schierholtz, who will turn 29 in February, posting a .257/.321/.407 line (104 OPS+) with 8 doubles, 5 triples, 6 homers, and 21 RBI in 114 games but just 269 plate appearances. Schierholtz is a left-hand hitting right fielder with some power and great defense (9.2 UZR/150 in right field in 2724 innings), and he’s great against right-handed pitching, managing a .280/.360/.466 line (120 sOPS+) with all 6 of his home runs and a .266/.319/.413 line for his career. Schierholtz doesn’t have a major career platoon split, posting a .732 OPS versus right-handers and a .708 OPS against lefties but there was a major difference in 2012 as his OPS against lefties was just .444 (38 OPS+) just over half his .832 OPS against righties. Schierholtz could have been a platoon partner with former Cubs prospect Brandon Guyer in right field- but Guyer hit absolutely fine against righties at Triple-A, managing an .860 OPS (although that was lower than his .975 mark against lefties), and although Guyer is completely unproven in the big leagues, it doesn’t make much sense for the Rays to platoon him before they even get a sense of what kind of big league player he’ll be, and signing Schierholtz would likely force them to do that because of his struggles versus lefties. And if Guyer did hit well versus pitchers from both sides, what would the Rays do with Schierholtz? But the major reason Schierholtz did not sign with the Rays was because they acquired Yunel Escobar and suddenly outfield was not such a major need for them anymore because Escobar playing shortstop allows Ben Zobrist to potentially hold down an outfield spot, and from Schierholtz’s standpoint, he was not going to get as much playing time. The Rays chose Escobar over Schierholtz, a move that certainly makes sense as Escobar is a solid starting shortstop while Schierholtz is a platoon outfielder. Schierholtz could have been a solid fit for the Rays, but the Rays found a better alternative to make the signing not work out and good luck to him in Chicago.
Speaking of Chicago, Jeff Keppinger‘s departure from the Rays is official as he turned his huge season with the Rays in 2011 into a 3-year, 13 million dollar contract with the other team in Chicago, the White Sox. There were rumors that Keppinger would be heading to the Yankees and that would have been frustrating for Rays fans, but thankfully he got his long-term deal somewhere else and now Rays fans can wish him nothing but the best (except for when he’s playing the Rays).
Finally, Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports sent out an interesting tweet yesterday.
To clarify, nothing is happening on the trade front between the Rays and Royals at the moment, but the Royals are making an internal decision about whether it makes sense for them to trade promising outfield prospect Wil Myers for a frontline starting pitchers such as the Rays’ James Shields. Myers would be a major acquisition for the Rays, and if the Royals offer Myers and another good prospect or two for Shields, it would be awfully hard for them not to accept. We’re going to have to stay tuned to see what the Royals decide and what eventually transpires.