The Tampa Bay Rays are currently dealing with several major injuries. On the position player side, the notable absences are Wil Myers and David DeJesus, and the Rays are certainly missing a lot. Myers was the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year while DeJesus was their best hitter this season before hitting the disabled list. A funny thing has happened, though, since they have left the picture: the Rays outfield is starting to click.
Kevin Kiermaier has taken the open playing time and run with it, impressing considerably both at the plate and in the field. Brandon Guyer has proved that inconsistent playing time was the only thing stopping him from being a productive player, managing a .298/.351/.413 line in his last 118 plate appearances. Ben Zobrist, meanwhile, has found more opportunities to play the outfield, allowing Logan Forsythe to get more regular at-bats and finally hit his stride. The Rays outfield could be even better when Myers and DeJesus return, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear: the Rays have six talented big league outfielders in Kiermaier, Myers, DeJesus, Guyer, Desmond Jennings, and Matt Joyce, and there is not enough playing time to go around. However, trading from that logjam is complicated by the fact that Myers and DeJesus are not set to come back until after the trade deadline.
If the Rays were going to deal one of their outfielders, the two clear candidates would be Joyce and Jennings. Joyce is under team control for just one more year after this one and will be a redundant player when DeJesus returns. Jennings, meanwhile, is not a bad player, but his issues against right-handed pitching (.682 OPS this season, .705 for his career) have meant that he is taking opportunities away from more qualified outfielders. Of the two, Joyce would be more likely to be dealt because the Rays will have a higher asking price for Jennings–maybe an offseason trade would be more likely for him. If either will be traded, though, what would the Rays do until Myers and DeJesus are actually ready to come back?
The good news for the Rays is that they have versatile players on their roster like Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez. In the event of say a Joyce trade, however, the Rays would be clearly be a worse offensive team from the moment the deal goes through until Myers or DeJesus comes off the DL. One thing the Rays would definitely try to do is to hold off on any trade until the last possible second, but there still could be a gap of two weeks or more where the Rays are forced to rely too heavily upon bench players. For that stretch of time, the Rays would be using a defensive alignment like this (pitcher and catcher not included).
The Rays would obviously give Guyer some time in the field, and Forsythe and him would not necessarily be everyday players–Rodriguez would have to be mixed in somewhere–but this lineup has clear flaws nonetheless. Neither Forsythe, Guyer, and Jennings would give the Rays three players who are not particularly good against right-handed pitching, but have to receive regular time against them nonetheless. The same would be true of Rodriguez, albeit in slightly less time. Would the Rays be willing to tolerate that for two weeks? We have to think that the answer would be yes, especially given the alternative. If the Rays don’t pull a maneuver like this off, their 25-man roster will be a mess as they figure out how to fit all six outfielders in. The Rays would have to send a deserving major league player down to Triple-A to make it work.
Infielders (6): Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, James Loney, Sean Rodriguez (?), Logan Forsythe (?)
Outfielders (6): Matt Joyce, Brandon Guyer, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, Wil Myers, David DeJesus
Why would the Rays ever demote Rodriguez, Forsythe, or a pitcher just to accommodate an extra outfielder that they don’t need? They could delay the return of Myers or DeJesus until September, but it makes no sense to have a usable major league player stuck at Durham as the season nears its final month. The Tampa Bay Rays won’t trade Joyce or Jennings for less than they are worth, but whether they are buying, selling, or staying put, it makes sense for them to deal an outfielder. David Price may not be the Rays’ most likely trade candidate after all.
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