The Tampa Bay Rays’ Plans At Designated Hitter

By Peter M. Gordon

Oct 5, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) congratulates designated hitter Delmon Young (15) after he hit a sacrifice fly to score during the second inning in game two of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have not had great luck with full-time DHs. Pat Burrell, whose nickname was supposed to be “The Bat” underperformed after they signed him in 2009–in fact, Burrell’s poor hitting may be the biggest factor in the team’s failure to get back to the World Series or even the playoffs in 2009. Luke Scott, despite putting together some good hitting streaks and being a colorful locker room presence, also did not deliver the offense the Rays expected the last two years. Then there was Delmon Young, who the Rays brought in at the end of 2013. Young hit decently down the stretch for the Rays: a .258 average with 3 home runs and 7 RBI in only 29 games. He also hit a big home run in the wild card game against Cleveland. But while Young’s inability to play a position other than DH regularly didn’t hurt the Rays during September when rosters expand to 40, that would be a liability when the roster limit was 25.

As we saw Young sign with the Baltimore Orioles, it is reasonable to conclude the Rays decided he wouldn’t fit their 2014 plans. It appears that next season the Rays plan to fill the DH spot with a rotation of players, rather than sign a full time DH. Expect to see Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist , and even Wil Myers take occasional turns at DH to rest them from the rigors of playing the field. Matt Joyce, who recently signed a $3.7 million contract, will likely be the primary DH against right handers. Joyce, of course, can also play corner outfield. Using the DH spot, the Rays can rest several of their regulars, and with those starters at DH, they can keep their substitutes sharp, whether the are Sean Rodriguez, Brandon Guyer, Jayson Nix, or some future free agent signee.

Joe Maddon loves to rewrite his lineup every day and have multiple options for every situation. Ensuring that tonight’s DH can make a contribution in the field on another day will help Maddon manage to the best of his ability. That alone will make the Rays’ new DH plan worthwhile.