Sunday at 3 PM was the deadline for MLB teams to finalize their 25-man roster in advance of the season and the Rays had some last-second decisions to make. Jamey Wright had made their team out of spring training, but they had to decide who to designate for assignment in order to add him to their 40-man roster. The more sudden question that arose was that they had to assess the severity of Luke Scott‘s calf injury to determine whether his replacement should be a player already on the 40-man roster or someone else in camp. The Rays made their choices, adding Wright, Shelley Duncan, and Juan Carlos Oviedo to their 40-man roster while designating Stephen Vogt and Robinson Chirinos for assignment.
Things cannot be looking great for Luke Scott right now. With Scott’s current calf injury deemed that could sideline him for as many as five weeks, the Rays had to make a move to get a real hitter to replace- the 40-man roster options of Chris Gimenez, Brandon Guyer, and Vogt were not impressive and they had to make another move. The player they decided on was Duncan, who came to camp on a minor league contract and proceeded to lead the team with 5 home runs, although he did hit just .224. In 770 plate appearances the last three years with the Indians, Duncan has a solid .231/.309/.430 line (106 OPS+) and has been almost completely split-neutral, managing a .747 OPS versus right-handed pitching and a .720 mark against lefties. Duncan is about an average hitter overall, not hitting for much average and showing pretty poor plate discipline, but he has always stood out for his good power, averaging right around 21 homers per 500 plate appearances in both the major leagues and minor leagues. Duncan is certainly not the hitter Scott is, but his ability to replace at least some of his power, play both corner outfield spots and first base, and also potential slot in against both righties and lefties had to be attractive to the Rays. Duncan is receiving a golden opportunity to prove to the Rays that he belongs in the major leagues and we know given the Rays’ offensive woes of the past several years that if Duncan hits, the Rays will find a way to keep getting him at-bats.
Wright, we know, made the Rays thanks to his great low-90’s sinker that has forced a groundball rate among the best in baseball the past few years and also an assortment of effective secondary pitches, but what’s the story with Oviedo? As it turns out, Oviedo, formerly known as Leo Nunez, was placed on the 40-man roster by the Rays and then immediately placed on the 60-day DL as he continues his recovery from Tommy JohnSurgery last September. Nunez was an effective closer for the Marlins for a while, and the Rays took a no-risk flier on him this offseason on a minor league contract hoping he could be a valuable part of their bullpen at the end of this year and also next season, when they hold an option on him. Being on the 60-day DL means that Oviedo doesn’t count towards the 40-man roster, which allowed the Rays to add him along with Duncan and Wright but only designate two players for assignment.
You have to feel sorry for Stephen Vogt, who went just 0 for 25 for the Rays last season and had fallen out of favor enough with the team that they were willing to designate him for assignment and expose him to waivers. Vogt has good minor league numbers, managing a .299/.360/.448 line, but he’s a catcher who has never been very good defensively and lacks the power to profile long-term in first base or left field, although he can play both positions decently enough. Vogt interested the Rays enough as a power bat off the bench that they put him on their Opening Day roster to begin 2012, but after he sputtered so spectacularly, they had to risk losing him to put a player in Duncan who can contribute to their major league team on the roster. Vogt has some value, but there’s also a very good chance he’ll pass through waivers and remain in the organization at Triple-A Durham.
The tougher move for the Rays had to be designating fellow catcher Robinson Chirinos, who was not a real factor in their backup catcher competition this spring coming off a season derailed by a concussion in 2012, but he also represented the Rays catcher anywhere near the major leagues with the most upside. Chirinos, acquired by the Rays in the Matt Garza deal, had a huge 2010 between Double-A and Triple-A for the Cubs, managing a .326/.416/.583 line with 18 home runs, also throwing out 32% of attempted basestealers, and although he dropped off in his first season in the Rays organization in 2011, he played decently in 20 MLB games for the Rays, most notably delivering a game-tying single and a walk-off single in the same game on August 4th. Chirinos is the only Rays catcher who has shown flashes of being above-average both at the plate and defensively. However, he hasn’t been the same since the concussion and the Rays just ran out of time and ran out of roster spots and he had to be the one to go. Chirinos may be claimed by another team if they believe he’s healthy, but the Rays hope he’s another player that will pass through waivers and if he does and stays healthy, he has a chance to emerge as a catching option at some point in the season.