While most of the focus the rest of the offseason is going to be on which players the Tampa Bay Rays will trade, they do still have a couple more needs to address. One is righty-hitting bench player, and while Tim Beckham is currently favorite for the role, the Rays could use a veteran on a minor league deal to compete with him. Beckham has yet to turn 25, but the Rays’ best option for his competition could be 37-year-old Mark Ellis.
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At this peak, Ellis was an above-average starting second baseman thanks to average offense and spectacular defense. More recently, his game has taken a step down, but until 2014, he was still a productive player. From 2012 to 2013 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ellis hit to a .264/.328/.357 line (93 OPS+), and combining that with his still-impressive glovework was enough for him to get $5.25 million from the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason.
However, in St. Louis, Ellis fell to just a .180/.253/.213 line in 202 plate appearances, enough of a disaster that his fielding could not make up for it. That type of year may be enough to spell the end of Ellis’ big league career. On the other hand, sometimes players just have really bad years, and a team has nothing to lose giving Ellis a minor league deal and seeing if he can still play.
The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for a very simple role: a 25th man who hits right-handed and has some versatility. Ellis has been almost entirely a second baseman throughout his career, but he did also see some time at the infield corners in 2014. Most importantly, though, is his track record hitting left-handed pitching.
For his career, Ellis has hit to a .271/.343/.417 line against lefties, and he was actually at .282/.331/.412 against them (109 sOPS+) as recently as 2013. He was even better in 2012 and until 2014, he had not been more than 12% below-average against lefties since 2009.
On the whole, Ellis has been average and occasionally excellent against left-handed pitching, and combining that with his defense would make him a useful bench player. At the very least, he is worth inviting to spring training to see if his bat is anything near what it once was.
The reality may be that if Mark Ellis may retire if he does not make a big league roster out of spring training. The Rays would be fine with that arrangement considering they don’t have second base open at Triple-A Durham anyway. For a salary under $1 million that they would only have to pay if he makes their roster, Ellis could improve the Rays’ bench. That is a move that they should make.