Tampa Bay Rays Position by Position Breakdown: Left Field
By Robbie Knopf
As we now know the decision about David DeJesus and the extension the Tampa Bay Rays signed him to we can now thoroughly analyze the position as we head into the offseason and the 2014 season. Let’s look at what the Rays’ left field picture is set to look like next year.
David DeJesus– After being a Chicago Cub to start the season, DeJesus was traded to the Nationals on August 19th. That stint only lasted 4 days and 4 plate appearances as Tampa Bay traded a PTBNL (Matthew Spann) for DeJesus on August 23rd. DeJesus put up fair numbers as a Ray and and provided the Rays with another CF when Desmond Jennings went down and Matt Joyce scuffling. Now DeJesus will be under contract until at least the end of the 2015 season. DeJesus certainly won’t wow you like he did at times in Kansas City, but can play all three outfield spots, hits right-handed pitching some well, has some baserunning ability, and provides a veteran leader within this young Rays clubhouse. Only time will tell how this deal works out, but Andrew Friedman wouldn’t commit this much money to a 33 year old OF if they didn’t believe he could provide sufficient value to the club.
Matt Joyce– Rays fans have been hoping for the eventual consistency of Matt Joyce ever since his 2011 breakout season in which he was an All-Star and hit .277/.347/.478 with 17 homers and 13 stolen bases. But his struggles against lefties and mediocre defense have put his future in question as a member of the team. With the Rays picking up DeJesus option, the Rays now have 3 lefty hitting outfielders (Sam Fuld being the other) and may not have enough space on the roster for them all. Joyce seems like the candidate to go as he is eligible for arbitration for the second time after receiving a $2.45M salary in 2013. The Rays could non-tender Joyce, making him a free agent, or they could work out a trade to another team and have them pick up the tab for the rest of his arbitration. Maybe it’s finally time for the Rays to give up.
Brandon Guyer– Remember this guy? Yet another player from the Matt Garza trade in 2011, Guyer was supposed to be a good fourth outfielder OF with a strong arm, some power and speed, and the potential for an everyday job if things went right. Instead, injuries though have hurt him the past two seasons as he missed all of 2012 with after getting labrum surgery on his left non-throwing shoulder and as he was making progress towards a comeback in Tampa Bay this season, Guyer broke his right middle finger on a hit-by-pitch in August. After all the injuries, the future is uncertain for Guyer, especially as he will turn 28 in January and has spent the past three seasons at Triple-A. But here’s the thing: Guyer still has talent. In 945 Triple-A plate appearances, Guyer has a .305/.378/.487 line with an average of 29 doubles, 13 homers, and 21 stolen bases per season while maintaining a solid 2.20-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. Guyer has the tools to be an impact player in the major leagues if he can only stay healthy. Guyer is likely to start the year at Triple-A again, but he could get a chance to make the team out of spring training and should be called up when the Rays need an extra outfielder at some point in the year.
Reed Johnson– With all of these left-handed hitting outfielders that can’t hit lefties, there has to be a right-handed bat in the mix. Enter Reed Johnson, proud owner of a career .311/.366/.456 line against lefty pitching. With that in mind, Johnson could be an interesting platoon player for Tampa Bay. He has lost his range to play CF on a constant basis, and isn’t regarded as having a great arm, thus limiting himself to a corner-outfield role, but that won’t matter if he hits. Atlanta chose to decline his $1.6M option, instead opting to pay him 150K to leave. Johnson is a nice 4th outfielder possibility that should receive some interest from Tampa Bay.
Jeff Baker– One of the few major leaguers born in the country of Germany (ex-Ray Edwin Jackson being another), Baker once again finds himself looking for a new team as he has been with four franchises over the past two seasons. One of the better hitters against lefty pitching (.298/.353/.522 I n2013) available on the market, Baker with his versatility could be an interesting option for the Rays. Baker in 2013 appeared in games at LF, 1B, 3B, 2B, and RF, and has started at least 20 games at those positions throughout his career. Coming off a $1.75M deal with Texas in 2013, Baker might receive similar interest for his hitting against lefty arms and versatility in the field. Expect a lot of clubs, including the Rays to be asking about his services, and we will have to say where the price ends up.
Jason Bay– Bay used to be a great player, now…not so much. His career, for whatever reason landed flat after signing a huge contract with the Mets after a strong season in Boston. In 2012, after hitting .165/.237/.299 the Mets finally gave in and released Bay, choosing to just eat his contract once they found no suitor for his services. Seattle gave him another shot in 2013 for $1M and made the team out of spring training. But hitting .204/.298/.393 with 62 strikeouts in 68 games wasn’t enough as he was released in mid-August. He did have a .733 OPS versus lefties, though. Bay will likely be looking for a minor league deal, and it would be a nice move by the Rays to pick him up for depth.
With the Tampa Bay Rays picking up the option on DeJesus and extending him an extra two years, the situation becomes even cloudier. Questions about Matt Joyce and Sam Fuld future with the club are not clear yet as they could become expandable in the future. The free agent options, meanwhile, could provide help to the team against left-handed pitching, given that three of the Rays current OF hit left-handed. If Tampa Bay explores this option, Baker seems like the most likely option given his versatility, but how much money is left after the DeJesus contract? The good news, though, is that there are players on the market to fill out the Rays’ outfield at an affordable cost.