We have known for years at this point that Matt Joyce is a flawed player. However, by putting him in the right situation, the Tampa Bay Rays were able to get value out of him the last five years. They sat him against lefties and whenever he fell into one of his inevitable slumps. They transitioned him from right field to left field and even towards designated hitter. For their efforts, they received a 119 OPS+ in 2211 plate appearances, the second-highest of any Rays hitter with 1000 PA’s since 2010 behind only Evan Longoria. But Joyce leaving the Rays was an inevitable outcome–the only question was going to be when they found the right alternative. In Nick Franklin, that player has finally arrived.
Nick Franklin is decidedly not Matt Joyce. He does have limited experience in the corner outfield spots, but he is also a capable defender at second base. While he has been much better against right-handed pitching so far in his career, he is a switch-hitter as opposed to a pure lefty bat and is not a lost cause against lefties quite yet. At the very least, Franklin gives the Rays enough that a player like Joyce is expendable. Next season, Joyce will make close to $5 million while Franklin will still earn the league minimum. The difference in their skills is worth far less than the $4.5 million gap in their salaries.
If the Rays trade Joyce, their remaining outfield will contain plenty of questions. Wil Myers is coming off a terrible year, and the quartet of David DeJesus, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Guyer all struggle against same-side pitching. But despite everyone’s limitations, looking at them solely as part of the Rays’ outfield is too narrow of a scope. We have to remind ourselves that Ben Zobrist is around for another year, and that Franklin should wind up playing some outfield as well. Is the Rays’ potential lineup against right-handed pitching without Joyce really worse?
Without Joyce: 1. Ben Zobrist, 2. David DeJesus, 3. Evan Longoria, 4. James Loney, 5. Wil Myers, 6. Nick Franklin, 7. Yunel Escobar, 8. Ryan Hanigan, 9. Kevin Kiermaier
You can quibble about who is batting where in those orders and the fact that I put in Kiermaier over Jennings, but the point remains the same. Though Franklin is no sure thing, he is a talented prospect that has a good track record against righties and enough defensive value to make up for any difference between him and Joyce at the plate. He has the ability to warrant a big league spot and the Rays certainly didn’t acquire him to leave him at Triple-A. The Rays have no obligation to trade Matt Joyce–they have to receive legitimate offers for him, or they will keep him until he hits free agency after next season. That being said, Nick Franklin provides them with as good of an excuse to trade him as ever before, and there is reason to believe that a deal will finally fall into place.