At this point in time, the Rays have far from a perfect team, but they believe they have put together a very good group of players with the ability to go to the playoffs and beyond if a few things go right. Two positions that are in question, though, are catcher and the outfield.
At catcher, the Rays are set for their fourth consecutive season without a true starting catcher, with Jose Molina receiving the bulk of the starts splitting time with another player that has yet to be determined. At this point, the indications are that the second catcher is going to be either Jose Lobaton or Chris Gimenez. Lobaton, 28, is younger and a switch-hitter, and he also has better plate discipline, and is the incumbent in the second catcher role, but Gimenez, 30, showed better potential than Lobaton on both sides of the ball in 2012 as he played regularly at Triple-A for most of the year before carrying his breakthrough over to the majors in September. The Rays hope that one of them can seize the job this spring and do a solid job playing alongside Molina to help limit the damage until the Rays can find a long-term solution behind the plate.
In the outfield, meanwhile, the Rays have two spots essentially nailed down in Desmond Jennings and Matthew Joyce, but after that, it gets interesting. The Rays have a couple of options for the third starting spot in the field in Ben Zobrist and Kelly Johnson, with the one not in the outfield playing a lot of second base, but the Rays are pretty thin on the backup front at this point, with Sam Fuld being the only true backup set to be on the roster, and that’s especially alarming because like Joyce and Johnson, he’s a left-handed hitter. The Rays have been playing the right-handed hitting Sean Rodriguez in the outfield the last few days to try to rectify that issue and Brandon Guyer presents another righty option, but Rodriguez is learning the outfield on the fly at this point and didn’t hit at all in 2012 while Guyer is coming off shoulder surgery and might not be a realistic major league option for at least May. The Rays do also have Shelley Duncan in camp as a solid right-handed hitter who can play the corner outfield spots in addition to first base, but he’s another example of an underlying issue the Rays have behind Jennings: they don’t have a real centerfield backup they can trust. Sam Fuld is an excellent defensive outfielder but is much more comfortable in a corner spots, Guyer is basically the same story, Duncan isn’t even a good defender in the corner spots, and Rodriguez is an unknown quantity in center. The Rays would be fine with Fuld in center when Jennings needs a day off, but if Jennings were to get hurt, who would the Rays turn to? Of course top prospectWil Myers is sitting at Triple-A, but the Rays certainly don’t want to rush him to the major leagues and he has been viewed as more of a right fielder himself. With all these things in mind, it might be wise for the Rays to invest in a backup outfielder they could trust in center and the last part of this tweet from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports isn’t too surprising.
Fine, the Rays need an outfielder, but wait a second- why would they need another catcher? It’s not like they’re talking about acquiring a bonafide starting catcher- they’re just interested in another backup-type player, which they have plenty of in Lobaton, Gimenez, and even Robinson Chirinos and prospect Mark Thomas at Triple-A. What would be the point of them acquiring yet another forgettable catcher? The answer is that if Gimenez were to win the Rays’ starting catcher job, suddenly that depth would take a major hit. Lobaton is out of options, meaning that the Rays would have to designate him for assignment if he doesn’t make their Opening Day roster, and Lobaton is good enough that some team might put a waiver claim on him. That could be viewed as a reason while Lobaton should be considered the favorite in the Rays’ catcher competition- but on the other hand, the Rays can’t afford to keep a mediocre player on their roster when they have a better option at Triple-A. Gimenez has the ability to be better than Lobaton at the plate and in the field and also provides versatility, able to play the corner infield and outfield spots in addition to catcher. Gimenez still has something to prove this spring, but he could very well emerge as the Rays’ best option for their second catcher. We’ll have to see how the catcher competition will play out, but the Rays have to be ready to acquire additional depth at the catcher position should Gimenez win the job.
Heyman tweeting that the Rays might be interested in a couple spare parts is far from the most interesting rumor in the world, but it shows exactly how the Rays have a plan of action for every possible scenario and understand that even if their teams looks fine on paper, injuries happen and they need to have backup plans that they don’t completely loathe going to if and when the time comes. In 2012, injuries decimated the Rays’ roster and forced them to acquire player after player off the waiver wire. This spring training, the Rays are doing everything they can to make sure that type of scenario doesn’t happen again.