Could the Rays Improve Their Team Speed?
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
The Rays were once regarded in the league as one of the best baserunning teams in league. The duo of Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton destroyed the basepaths for years and helped establish a base running culture throughout the organization. Taking the extra base has always been an essential part of the Rays’ offensive strategy as well, just another way they have maximized their ability to get runs across. Recently, however, we’ve seen the Rays shift away from being a great baserunning team. Crawford and Upton are gone and the Rays have not been able to replace their speed effectively. Only Desmond Jennings stole 20 bases in 2013 and only two players stole more than 10 bases. The current roster has pretty much been solidified but one area of the team that could use and upgrade before spring training is team speed. A player that is a legitimate stolen base threat could be extremely beneficial on the bench in the late innings and for defensive purposes. Here are a few names the Rays could look at to improve team speed:
Bonifacio has been as consistent as they come the last few years on the base paths. He had 40 stolen bases in 2011, 30 stolen bases in 2012 and 28 stolen bases in 2013. He only was caught stealing 22 times over the last three seasons as well. The switch-hitter posted a line of .243/.295/.331 last season between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals, being much of a threat at the plate only in 2011. But aside from his speed, another asset Bonafacio brings is his versatility. While he spent most of his time at second base in 2013, he also played third base, shortstop, and at all three outfield positions. The Rays appreciate versatility as much as anyone and especially need a player to back up Evan Longoria at third. In addition, the Royals currently don’t have a real need for Bonifacio like they did when they acquired him in August. They signed Omar Infante to be their everyday second baseman and have several options for a late inning pinch runner on their bench including Jarrod Dyson and Pedro Ciriaco. Bonifacio made 2.6 million in 2013 and is arbitration eligible for the next two seasons making him fairly affordable. The Rays could acquire him at a relatively low cost and take full advantage of his speed and versatility.
If the Rays decide to address to stay in house to improve their team speed then Kiermaier may be their guy. Kiermaier made his major league debut in game 163 replacing an injured Desmond Jennings in centerfield. His numbers for AAA Durham were pretty impressive in 2013 as he posted a line of .295/.362/.431. His baserunning was solid as well as he successfully stole 21 bases in 33 tries. Kiermaier’s best asset is his defensive play in the outfield, which has always been highly regarded throughout the industry. He could have a chance to crack the Rays roster as a 4th or 5th outfielder and pinch runner for late inning situations. Most likely he will be sent back to Durham and continue to play regularly while providing the big league club with some insurance in case of an injury. He has a good fourth outfielder skill-set, but after he improved offensively in 2013, the Rays will keep developing him to see if he can challenge Jennings for the starting centerfield job.
Pierre has always been a fantastic basestealer over the course of his 13-year career as he’s accumulated 614 stolen base while only getting caught 203 times. Last season for the Miami Marlins, he kept going strong even at age 35 as he stole 23 bases in 29 tries. He’s also been one of the best contact hitters in the game during his career as he’s never struck out more than 52 times in a single season. With the recent success with contact hitters the Rays have had why not role the dice on another one? Pierre produced a line of just .247/.284/.305 in 2013, but that could be seen as an outlier. Pierre has never delivered many extra base hits, but he has always hit for a decent average annually, never dropping below .275 from 2000 to 2012. He’s been a fairly good defender throughout his career as well but has only played left field the past few seasons. Pierre is currently a free agent and shouldn’t command much money at all. Pierre could be a good cheap fit for the Rays and take Sam Fuld’s old role as the spark-plug off the bench but with better baserunning ability and better offense.
Casilla only stole 9 bases for Balitmore in 2013 but was able to steal 21 bases in 22 tries in 2012. The switch-hitting second baseman provides solid defense at second base and does have experience at shortstop and third base as wel. He only produced a .214/.268/.295 line in 125 plate appearances but did keep his K% rate at a very respectable 16%. His BABIP of .247 could be a sign that he was just unlucky in 2013 and could rebound. Casilla should cost only a minor league deal and is interesting because of his speed and versatility both in the field and at the plate.