What Does the David DeJesus Signing Say About the Rays’ Plans?

By Peter M. Gordon

Oct 8, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays left fielder David DeJesus (7) holds on to his helmet as he runs to first as he hits a RBI single during the sixth inning of game four of the American League divisional series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Sally Field won her second Academy Award for Best Actress (for Places in the Heart) she famously thanked the Academy by gushing “You like me. You really, really like me.” David DeJesus must be feeling something similar after the Rays traded for him this summer, picked up his option, and just negotiated a two-year deal with an option that guarantees him over $10 million.

Granted, DeJesus performed well in August and September. He brought a great energy to the team during the stretch run, delivered some key hits, and played impressive defense in left and adequate defense in center. On the other hand, he’s turning 34 in December and like many other Rays, was available because his two previous teams had given up on him.

Does the Rays’ willingness to sign DeJesus at market rates mean anything about their other free agent plans? If David DeJesus is worth $10 million over three years as platoon left fielder, what’s James Loney, a Gold Glove caliber fielder, worth at first base over three years? Can the Rays afford to pay near-market rates for Loney, too? A cliché often repeated is that small market teams can’t or won’t keep their stars. That’s also true for big market teams like the Red Sox. The 2013 World Champions only have five players on their team that played on the 2007 World Champions: Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Clay Buckholz. The Rays have three players from the 2008 AL Champions on their roster – David Price, Evan Longoria, and Ben Zobrist (and even four if you count Jeff Niemann). Rays management understands that there are only a few ballplayers with extraordinary skills, and that it’s important to keep them when you can.

The DeJesus signing is more confirmation that the Rays will pay for skills they deem valuable. They so often go for the undervalued players on the free agent market, and that is something they will continue to do, but they will take the opportunity to re-sign the players they have if they believe they are the best options. With that in mind, could Loeney be brought back, especially if players like Justin Morneau get up there in cost as well? In addition, there are few players more valuable than a pitcher with Cy Young ability like David Price. While the conventional wisdom is that the Rays will trade Price like they did James Shields, could the Rays reverse course appreciating just how valuable Price is to their success? The chances seem low on both fronts, but this DeJesus deal reminds us that the Rays are not afraid to shift to strategy to help their team win. Even if Loney and Price depart next season, maybe the Rays will act differently the next time around.