Will the Tampa Bay Rays Carry Three Catchers in 2015?
By Robbie Knopf
After months of fans clamoring for them to improve their backup catcher situation, the Tampa Bay Rays finally acquired a topflight hitter who plays catcher. The issue, however, is that John Jaso will not be catching very much for the Rays next season. Rene Rivera will hope to be the first Rays catcher to start 100 games since Dioner Navarro in 2009, but Jaso is incapable of catching all of the games left over.
It makes sense that the Rays would want to limit Jaso’s time in the field. His last two seasons have been ended by concussions, and his hitting versus right-handed pitching is strong enough that he is still valuable as a designated hitter. Considering that Jaso is also a poor defensive catcher, what do the Rays have to gain playing him at the position more than occasionally?
If John Jaso is only going to start 30 games at most for the Rays at catcher, though, then the Rays need to make room for a third backstop on their roster. That is an alignment that few teams are able to maintain, especially given how little the third catcher would play. Do the Rays have enough room on their 25- and 40-man rosters to pull it off nonetheless?
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At the moment, here are the most likely three scenarios for the Tampa Bay Rays roster: they keep things basically as is, they deal David DeJesus and replace him with Steven Souza, or they trade DeJesus and sign Colby Rasmus. The only real transactions the Rays have left to make on the position player side are signing a righty-hitting infielder to a minor league deal and just maybe signing an outfielder like Rasmus.
In each situation, we can assume that the Rays will carry 13 position players. We can also say with confidence that 10 of them will be Rivera, Jaso, James Loney, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Franklin, Evan Longoria, Logan Forsythe, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Guyer.
In regards to the 40-man roster, meanwhile, the Rays would have one spot open to add a non-roster player in the first case because they could designate Steve Geltz for assignment. They would have two spots available in the second after subtracting Geltz and DeJesus, but just one in the third because they would lose Geltz and DeJesus but get back Rasmus.
Here are the Rays’ projected defensive alignments for the first case.
The left-handed lineup isn’t quite as clear, but the Rays are currently set to have Franklin and Kiermaier switch off as they both hope to prove themselves against lefty pitchers. We can also argue about which middle infielder would play shortstop against pitchers of both sides.
In any event, you can see that we have added two players (DeJesus and Beckham) to our original 10, leaving us with one spot remaining for a backup catcher. As we said above, the Rays can also create one 40-man roster opening in this situation, and that makes it clear that Bobby Wilson and not Curt Casali should be the Rays’ third backstop.
We said above that the third catcher will not see much playing time, and that is one main reason why Casali should head to Triple-A. The other is that he didn’t even hit that well at Triple-A in 2014 and could use a full season there to get his bat on track. Since the Rays would have a 40-man roster spot available anyway, it is a no-brainer that Wilson, who doesn’t have nearly as good of a chance of being part of the team’s future, should make the team over Casali.
Now, to the second case.
Against lefties, the Rays have a clear alternative to that defense when Franklin plays over Kiermaier. They could play Franklin at shortstop, Cabrera at second base, Guyer in left field, and Forsythe at DH. The bigger deal, though, is that the left-handed lineup no longer features Tim Beckham. With that in mind, the Rays could not only add Wilson to their roster, but also Juan Francisco, who could provide power off the bench.
Finally, we arrive at the third case.
As you can see, basically everything is the same other than Rasmus replacing Souza. Things would get more complicated when the Rays deemed Souza big league-ready, but the only real difference for the beginning of the year would be the 40-man roster situation.
Since Rasmus would replace DeJesus on the 40-man, the Rays would have just one more player they could add. That player would be Wilson, with Beckham beating out Francisco for the last 25-man roster spot. That makes sense given that Rasmus is a lefty bat who hits same-side pitchers well but could use a right-handed backup.
As the three scenarios show, the Tampa Bay Rays are going to have a third catcher basically no matter what next season. That could be great news for John Jaso’s health as he could end up starting even less than 20 or 30 games at catcher if Wilson proves himself to be a halfway-decent option. Jaso’s principal talent is hitting right-handed pitching, and the Rays will let him devote his focus to that.