The Tampa Bay Rays already had Ben Zobrist lined up to play second base when they signed Asdrubal Cabrera. Now, even without a clear opening in their outfield now that Zobrist is set to play there, the Rays are apparently also in on free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus. Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports has the report.
Rasmus went on to tweet that if Ben Zobrist was traded, the Rays could have an outfield mix composed of Desmond Jennings, David DeJesus, Kevin Kiermaier, and Steven Souza. Unfortunately, things are not that simple–Brandon Guyer and Nick Franklin are factors as well, with Franklin set to play the outfield now that the Rays have signed Cabrera.
If Zobrist is traded, the Rays would still have a logjam of players for whom they need to find spots. No matter what, it appears that their starting infield will be Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Asdrubal Cabrera, and James Loney from left to right. In the outfield, meanwhile, Jennings will play center and all but one of the other spots will be left to platoons.
Against right-handed pitching, Kiermaier is lined up to play right field while DeJesus mans DH. Then versus lefties, Brandon Guyer will likely play left field while Logan Forsythe is the Rays’ DH. That leaves time available versus righties in left field and against righties in right field with two players that the Rays still need to find time for: Souza and Franklin.
Souza could theoretically fill both roles and become an everyday player, but it makes sense for the Rays to start him at Triple-A Durham to begin 2014. Even though Souza was outstanding at Triple-A last year, he still needs work on his pitch recognition, which could be the principal determinant of whether he can turn his promising power-speed combination into strong big league results.
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In addition, Franklin has logged over double the Triple-A plate appearances that Souza has, and it makes no sense to start him in the minor leagues again. The Rays didn’t acquire him in the David Price deal only to deny him a chance. Franklin would not play everyday from the start, but the Rays could alternate him and Kiermaier against lefty pitching to see if either one could prove himself worthy of a full-time role.
Bringing this all back to Colby Rasmus, he’s an interesting player but one who would force the Rays to either start both Souza and Franklin at Triple-A or play Franklin off the bench. He would clearly be a starting outfielder, and he even has good enough splits against left-handed pitchers as a lefty batter to play both ways.
Obviously, that’s also part of the case for signing Rasmus. He is very young for a free agent having just turned 28 and he features power, little platoon split, and a solid defensive reputation. His value is so low that despite his obvious appeal, he may be available for as little as $5 million on a one-year contract. That could be a steal if Rasmus plays to his potential, and it’s no surprise that the Rays would be interested in such a player.
If the Cabrera signing was a precursor to Zobrist deal, however, it is hard to believe that signing Colby Rasmus wouldn’t cause the Rays to execute another trade. Trading both Zobrist and Escobar makes little sense, but a deal involving DeJesus, which was already a possibility, would look a lot more plausible. Even if the Rays received nothing but an organizational player and salary relief for DeJesus, the upgrade from him to Rasmus would be tantalizing.
There are a lot of “if”s that we have to account for before it makes sense for the Rays to sign Colby Rasmus. First, they actually need to execute a Ben Zobrist trade. Secondly, they need to either deal DeJesus or be comfortable sending both Souza and Franklin to Triple-A (which seems unlikely). And finally, a team like the Baltimore Orioles has to be unwilling to swoop in and give Rasmus a better offer.
The chances of all of those things happening seems low, so let’s not go crazy about the possibility of Colby Rasmus becoming a Tampa Bay Ray. As the Cabrera signing shows, however, crazier things have certainly happened.