The recent blockbuster Wil Myers deal could very well go down as the right move for the Tampa Bay Rays Rays. Their faith in Myers has clearly waned in the past year, and if he continues to disappoint with the San Diego Padres, trading him will look brilliant. However, his absence highlights exactly how much help the Rays’ lineup needs.
The Rays were already suffering a power outage with Myers in the fold and badly needed another middle-of-the-order hitter to pair with him and Evan Longoria. With Myers gone, that need has been exacerbated even more. The problem becomes readily apparent if you look at the following example of batting orders the Rays could conceivably use if the season started tomorrow.
For the most part, that lineup isn’t so terrible. Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer are good enough against lefties to give the Rays a formidable top of the lineup against them along with the Longoria and Ben Zobrist. The bottom third of the order is also interesting with Rene Rivera coming off a big year (especially against LHP), Yunel Escobar being a solid offensive shortstop, and Kiermaier having upside in the nine-hole. Nevertheless, have we really come to the point where James Loney, who was weak against lefties last season, is still the Rays’ number five hitter against them?
Versus righties, meanwhile, the number five spot is where the problem comes up again as the Rays don’t have any legitimate player to put in that spot. Jennings goes there basically by default until Franklin or Kiermaier can prove himself worthy of such an assignment. The Rays could move Jennings up in the lineup and have Zobrist bat fifth, but we all know about Jennings’ inconsistency in the leadoff role (especially against right-handed pitching) at this point.
We know that the Rays are built on pitching and defense, and it’s worth noting how good this lineup would be defensively. Any outfield alignment featuring both Jennings and Kiermaier is going to be delivering excellent glove work game after game. That gives the Rays a little bit more of a margin for error, and that may be enough that they can win with this lineup.
If everyone stays healthy, the veterans reach their career averages, and players like Kiermaier, Franklin, and Guyer continue to develop, the Rays could score just enough runs to remain interesting in the AL East. Even so, they still have the worst lineup in the division, and they have to find some way to narrow the gap.
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One possible answer could be Steven Souza, who the Rays acquired in the Myers trade. He possesses a relatively similar skill-set to Myers, and hopefully he can perform better against breaking pitches. On the other hand, we will have to see if the Rays deem him big league-ready after only 407 Triple-A plate appearances after they gave Myers 728 and we can’t assume that he will come up and immediately be a middle-of-the-order type of hitter.
The Rays could change this picture between now and spring trading with a trade or a free agent signing. However, they are almost out of bargaining chips at the major league level and are reluctant to trade prospects for major leaguers. They might be able to sneak in a Domonic Brown type of hitter, but even he would require trading at least halfway-decent prospect.
This is not a pretty picture for Kevin Cash as he enters his first year as Tampa Bay Rays manager. It certainly looks like he is going to have to develop a small-ball offense backed by strong pitching and tight defense, and that may not be enough. They say in baseball that you can never have enough pitching, but we also know that the team that wins the game is the one with the most runs on the scoreboard.