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Drew Smyly and Desmond Jennings: Shutdown Rays on Divergent Paths

By Robbie Knopf
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Today is September 10th, but for two different Tampa Bay Rays, their seasons recently concluded. Matt Moore had Tommy John Surgery in April while Jerry Sands had wrist surgery in July, but the two players we are talking about are Drew Smyly and Desmond Jennings. For Smyly, his season is ending not because of any injury but simply because of innings. His current total of 153 was a good deal past his career-high of 126 from 2011, and the Rays wanted to be careful with their talented young lefty. Jennings, meanwhile, could have been playing through left knee soreness, but with the pain he would need to bear severe and the team not in contention, they decided to be cautious with him as well. What stands out more than this similarity between them, though, is how their standings in the organization have changed over the past few months.

The expectations have shifted dramatically for Drew Smyly. Hated by many Rays fans from the start because the Rays acquired him and not some top prospect in exchange for David Price, Smyly has done everything possible to sway opinions. After his 1.70 ERA in his 7 starts with the Rays, Smyly finished 2014 with a 3.24 ERA and a 133-42 strikeout to walk ratio in 153 innings pitched. That is quite a season, and now we have to wonder how good get he can get. It takes special performance to become a player to watch in the Rays’ impressive rotation, but that is exactly what Smyly has done.

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While Smyly has turned into the hotshot acquisition, it is fair to wonder whether Jennings has played his last game as a Tampa Bay Ray. The good news for Jennings is that the Rays may not be able to find a better option than him in centerfield. Kevin Kiermaier has been extremely inconsistent since his hot start to his big league career, and it is unclear that he can be a starting centerfielder. That being said, Jennings will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next season and is coming off a disappointing year. After improving his OPS+ from 96 in 2012 to 109 in 2013, Jennings saw all his improvements disappear as he slipped back to 98, 2% below league average. He was especially bad against right-handed pitching, hitting to a .238/.310/.343 line. Jennings is still a good player, making up for some of his offensive struggles with good defense and speed, but he clearly has not turned into the outstanding centerfielder the Rays thought he would become. Has the time come for the Rays to move on?

It is unlike the Rays to sell low on a player, especially with uncertainty behind him. The chances are that the Rays will hold onto Desmond Jennings pending a significant trade offer this offseason. Especially with Jennings not on the field, however, the last few weeks of the season will give the Rays plenty of time to contemplate just how important Jennings is to their team. Drew Smyly’s shutdown was a foregone conclusion that has given way to optimism for next season. For Desmond Jennings, though, his shutdown only leaves his future with the Rays in a state of uncertainty.

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