The Final Pieces of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Puzzle

By David Egbert

It’s six weeks to pitchers and catchers reporting and it’s time for the Rays’ to finalize their roster. Andrew Friedman says he needs a utility man and a reliever, although that was before the Rays signed Jayson Nix. I think he needs a little more. Here are the moves I would make over the next few weeks.

Trade Jose Lobaton to the Royals for Emilio Bonifacio: To make the most of Joe Maddon’s lineup madness, he needs a couple of versatile bench players. Bonifacio is perfect as a switch hitter who plays six different positions, fields well at all of them and features the speed the Rays were missing last year. His career line is .262/.322/.340, but he wouldn’t be on the team to hit.. Best of all he knows how to come of the bench and be productive. The Royals need a backup catcher–a role Lobaton could play quite capably–and Bonifacio is extra baggage after the signing of Omar Infante to place second base.

Sign Jeff Baker: Baker missed time through a thumb sprain in 2013, but he was unbelievable when he was on the field, hitting to a .279/.360/.545 line with 11 homers in just 175 plate appearances. He too plays six different positions and has a career line of .293/.353/.522 line against left-handed pitching. He is the player the Rays want platooning at DH and in the outfield, not Sean Rodriguez. He’s probably won’t cost more than $2 million thanks to his injury and overall limitations, and the Rays should pounce.

Sign Delmon Young: Young accepted $750,000 to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies last offseason, and he can’t be asking for much more now, even after his strong finish to 2013. It’s a no-brainer for the Rays to bring him back. Love him or hate him, he finally has his head screwed on straight and can hit both lefty and righty pitching. Give him a cheap contract and see what he can do. Worst-case scenario, he amounts to nothing and they cut him.

Trade Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez for Relief Help and/or Prospects: Joyce is one of those players who always seem more valuable than they are until you actually have them on your team. Let some other team deal with his tantalizing potential but never-ending inconsistency. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is completely out of his element on the Rays’ roster right now. His real role should be a utility player who can spell players across the field against left-handed pitching, but he wound up seeing time primarily at left field and first base, a waste of his talent. He can play shortstop, but he played there just 7 times in 2013 thanks to Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar. Teams know he can do more than that, and let’s see how much they are willing to give up for him. If the Rays can get players like Bonafacio, Baker, and Young, Joyce and Rodriguez will see their time finally come to be traded. If the Rays can get another reliever to fill out their bullpen better than Cesar Ramos or Josh Lueke would or a solid prospect or two, dealing them would be worth it.

I like this new bench a lot better than what the Rays currently have on board. It gives them a couple of opportunities to platoon in left field and Joe Maddon can mix and match to his hearts content. It is also about a wash on salary as they are only making moves within their comfort zone. Go for it, Rays!