It is no secret that the Tampa Bay Rays had a serious power outage last season. Evan Longoria was the only player on the team with more than 12 home runs or 70 RBI, and the lone additional player who drilled more than 10 homers was Sean Rodriguez in a fluky season.
Now Rodriguez is in Pittsburgh, but he’s far from the biggest loss for the Rays in the power department. Wil Myers and Matt Joyce have both since been dealt, making the Rays’ need for a power bat even more dire.
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Of course, controllable middle-of-the-order hitters are about as rare as twenty game winners. Most command huge salaries and are only available as free agents. With that in mind, the Rays’ best move may be to find under-the-radar players they can acquire at reasonable costs with the ability to break out and become the hitters for whom they’re looking. It has worked with relief pitchers, so why not sluggers? Let’s take a look at five possibilities.
Domonic Brown: Once an untouchable Philadelphia Phillies outfield prospect, it took Brown three years in the big leagues to settle into a full-time job. That year was 2013, when he delivered a .272/.324/.494 slash line with 27 home runs and 83 RBI, even earning an All-Star berth. 2014, however, was an entirely different story.
This season, Brown fell off significantly, hitting to a .235/.285/.349 slash line with 10 home runs and 63 RBI. It was certainly a rough season, but on the other hand, Philadelphia’s asking price for him could be quite reasonable because of it. With the Phillies retooling, it could make sense for them to deal Brown for prospects. Could the Rays take a flier on him and see if they can turn him around?
Lonnie Chisenhall: Once another top prospect who struggled to establish himself, Chisenhall broke through in 2014, hitting to a .280/.343/.427 slash line with 13 home runs and 59 RBI. On the other hand, his defense at third base was a train wreck as he was 14 runs below average according to DRS and 10.7 runs below per UZR. Could the Indians’ capitalize on his breakout year by dealing him to improve their defense and clear their corner player logjam?
Carlos Santana can also play third base, and while he has problems of his own, he can’t really be worse than Chisenhall. In addition, the Indians have a good amount of left-handed power on their team between Michael Brantley, Chisenhall, and recent acquisition Brandon Moss, giving them further incentive to trade Chisenhall. If the Rays gave the Indians the right package and kept Chisenhall far away from third base, his offensive upside is quite intriguing.
Stephen Vogt: Vogt is a former Ray who was traded to Oakland for a case of sunflower seeds when it was thought that he was an expendable part of the 40-man roster in 2013. This past year made them look quite bad as Vogt hit delivered a .279/.343/.427 slash line with 9 homers and 35 RBI in 287 plate appearances. He even did so while playing first base, catcher, and right field.
With the Rays still looking for a backup catcher, a reunion with Vogt could make a lot of sense. Even if he isn’t the best defender at catcher, his bat should make him a valuable super-utility player at the very least. The Rays should acknowledge how big of a mistake it was to let Vogt go for nothing and see how much the A’s are asking for him.
Derek Dietrich: Dietrich is another former Ray who came over from Miami in the Yunel Escobar deal in the 2012 offseason. His growth as a player has been slowed by the deficiencies in the field, but his bat is good enough to warrant a more extended big league chance. Even with the Rays possessing a relatively similar hitter (but a much better defender) in Nick Franklin, Dietrich could be an excellent buy-low candidate.
With the Marlins bringing in Dee Gordon and Martin Prado, Dietrich’s place in their team’s plans is getting increasingly difficult to see. It may be worthwhile for the Rays to send a prospect to Miami to reacquire Dietrich and see if his bat will be good enough for another position.
Delmon Young: Young is a free agent after a strong season of part-time work with the Baltimore Orioles. He certainly isn’t as young as everyone else we’ve mentioned (although he’s somehow still only 29), and he is another player with defensive deficiencies. Yet his bat may be good enough to buy into his season with the Orioles and strong finish to 2013 with the Rays before that.
Young’s days in the field are behind him (why did the Orioles play him 28 times in the outfield?), but he could fit as a part-time or even a full-time DH for the Rays. The cost to sign him as a free agent can’t be too high, and the Rays should look into bringing him in.
There certainly aren’t any surefire fixes for the Tampa Bay Rays’ lack of power among this group, but they are all interesting projects and would not cost a king’s ransom in terms of players and salary. At the end of the day, the Rays need all the offensive help they can get in 2015 and at least we aren’t talking about Luke Scott.