David DeJesus: Looking Back, Moving Forward
By David Egbert
David DeJesus came to the Tampa Bay Rays in a strange way in 2013. After he began the year with the Chicago Cubs, he was sold to the Washington Nationals on August 19th and traded to the Rays four days later for fringe-prospect Matthew Spann.
DeJesus proceeded to post a .260/.328/.413 slash line for the remainder of the 2013 season and that was enough for the Rays to not only keep him, but also extend him. The Rays held a $6.5 million option on him with a $1.5 million buyout, but they instead renegotiated with him, signing him to a two-year, $10.25 million contract with an option for 2016.
Unfortunately for DeJesus and the Rays, the 2014 season did not start out well as he hit just .190 for the month of April. But then, before we knew it, he morphed into the team’s best hitter as Evan Longoria and Wil Myers struggled (and Myers got hurt). From May 1st to June 18th, DeJesus hit to a .311/.397/.504 line and played better than the Rays possibly could have hoped for. However, June 18th was the end of that streak because he broke his hand on, of all things, a checked swing.
DeJesus didn’t get back on the field until September 1st and when he returned, he found the outfield quite crowded. Wil Myers and Brandon Guyer had returned from injuries, Kevin Kiermaier had impressed since his promotion, and Ben Zobrist was even logging outfield time against lefties. That left DeJesus with a part-time DH role against right-handers and a seemingly questionable spot on the team for next season.
Overall, David DeJesus hit to a strong .248/.344/.403 line (115 OPS+) for the Rays in 2014, but he logged just 273 plate appearances, his fewest since 2003. DeJesus surprised the Rays a good way for that excellent month-and-a-half stretch, but the amount of time he missed certainly was not what the Rays had in mind when they gave him that two-year deal.
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Before we take a look at how DeJesus will fit into the 2015 Rays lineup, we first must talk about whether he will still be with the team. The outfield logjam still exists as the Rays possess six major league outfielders on their 40-man roster: DeJesus, Myers, Kiermaier, Guyer, Desmond Jennings, and Matt Joyce. The Rays don’t need five true outfielders–let alone six–because Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez (if he stays with the team) can both play the outfield as well. Mikie Mahtook is also knocking on the door after a strong season at Triple-A that netted him a 40-man spot this offseason.
The Rays are also looking to cut payroll and David DeJesus will make $5 million next season. Could he be a candidate to be dealt? The answer is yes, but he is a couple of rungs down the list of outfielders the Rays will look to trade. The most likely player for the Rays to move is Joyce, who is projected to make a comparable $4.9 million in 2015 before hitting free agency. The salary is far from the only thing that DeJesus and Joyce have in common as both play almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. The Rays don’t need both of them, and they might as well keep DeJesus knowing that they can retain for 2016 at an affordable rate if they so desire.
The other outfielder with a higher probability of heading elsewhere is Desmond Jennings. Jennings would require a much larger return–the Rays recognize that despite his flaws, he is still a slightly above-average major league centerfielder. We will have to see how much interest Jennings will generate on the trade market, but if he does get dealt, the Rays would love to have DeJesus around. A Jennings trade would likely mean a mix of Kiermaier and Guyer in centerfield, but the fact that DeJesus can cover center as well is something that the Rays value.
If David DeJesus is healthy and on the Rays next year, he could well be the Rays’ starting left fielder and leadoff man against right-handed pitching. Jennings will likely be around, but he has never gotten comfortable setting the table and is much better against lefties than righties. While DeJesus doesn’t have Jennings’ speed, his ability to get on-base will keep in the number one or two spot in the Rays’ order against righties as they hope to rebound from their rough year offensively in 2014.
Injuries got to David DeJesus in 2014 worse than they had in years, but his timing was good as the Rays had a disastrous season anyway. The Rays will keep him knowing that one injury-riddled year doesn’t change the fact that he can still be a productive player at the plate, in the field, and in the clubhouse. They knew what they were getting when they extended DeJesus and they will give him a chance to prove that he is worth the money.