The Scenario Where the Rays Trade Desmond Jennings
By David Egbert
The Rays are at the Winter Meetings in San Diego looking to trade an outfielder. As they do so, they will try to accomplish at least one of several objectives: cutting payroll, filling needs on their 25-man roster, and bolstering their farm system. The Rays are offering Matt Joyce and David DeJesus in trades, and Desmond Jennings might be available as well. Jennings is a superior player to Joyce and DeJesus and clearly has more value, but those may be exactly the reasons why the Rays should deal him.
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Desmond Jennings’ strengths have always been defense and speed and that combination has turned him into an extremely valuable big league outfielder. While he has never turned into the superstar the Rays thought he would become, his all-around abilities been enough for him to become an above-average centerfield starter each of the last three years. However, sometimes when we look at a player’s aggregate value using measures like Wins Above Replacement, we lose track of the fact that certainly components of a player’s game may help his team more than others.
Over the last three years, Jennings has proven himself to be a strong defensive centerfielder who hits lefties very well, is decent against righties, and steals bases but not quite as many as you would hope for. Even as the Rays acknowledge of that skill-set, though, they are also aware that they possess a player who can do nearly all of those things in Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier burst onto the scene in 2014, and even as he faded, his upside was apparent. Kiermaier is a superior defender to Jennings in centerfield, and if he can be just a decent hitter against right-handed pitching, the Rays should not have too big of a problem replacing Jennings.
If Kiermaier fails to hit lefties, the Rays could have him platoon with Brandon Guyer or Logan Forsythe, the latter by moving Ben Zobrist to the outfield. If that scenario would prompt them to pursue another outfielder who can hit a lefty, such a player should not be difficult to find. Even if Kiermaier does not hit at all, Nick Franklin is another player with the ability to pick up Jennings’ load at least against right-handed pitching. Add in the fact that the Rays have a righty-hitting outfield prospect in Mikie Mahtook who is coming off a breakout year at Triple-A, and there would be even less risk associated with a trade of Jennings.
In the end, it is difficult to see the Rays moving Desmond Jennings for prospects and/or a second catcher. Unless a team is offering them one of the top prospects in baseball and more for Jennings, a deal along those lines almost surely would not make sense for the Rays. However, if they saw a chance to trade Jennings for an affordable power hitter, that would be the scenario where a deal would get done. Jennings has more value in a vacuum than a player like Brandon Moss or Evan Gattis, but given the construction of the Rays’ roster and the alternatives they have to Jennings, such a player could help them significantly more than Jennings would.
The Rays’ dream is to get a middle-of-the-order hitter and more in exchange for Jennings, and that might be too much to ask. As the Oakland Athletics looked to trade Moss, they were never going to add prospects to their All-Star slugger to facilitate a trade, and the Atlanta Braves would look even worse if they did so as they dealt Gattis. In all likelihood, Desmond Jennings will remain with the Rays because the return they would need to get for him is far too specific. However, Matt Silverman will continue searching for an offer that allows him to convert his centerfielder into the additional offense his team desperately needs, and the best thing for the Rays may be an eventual trade of Jennings within these parameters.