It seems extremely likely that the Tampa Bay Rays will trade David DeJesus if they deem Steven Souza to be big league-ready. After all, DeJesus is owed $5 million in 2015 plus a $1 million buyout of his 2016 option, and that is a steep price by Rays standards for a bench player. In addition, with options like Juan Francisco and Tim Beckham in camp, the Rays would not be losing much if the dealt DeJesus.
However, what if the offers simply don’t come for DeJesus? Given that he is a 35 year old coming off an injury-riddled year, that certainly doesn’t sound so crazy. If it does happen, can the Rays accommodate DeJesus on their roster even if Steven Souza does make their team out of spring training?
With Souza on the roster, the Rays would be set for the following defensive alignments against right-handed and left-handed pitching.
There are clear opportunities available against left-handed pitching. There is no guarantee that Kevin Kieramier will hit them well after he struggled against them in his rookie season, and players like Nick Franklin and even Tim Beckham could get opportunities in his place. However, that is entirely irrelevant to DeJesus, who has been a non-factor against lefties for years.
If you squint hard enough, you can find opportunities for DeJesus to play against righties. John Jaso could use the occasional off-day as the Rays try to keep him healthy, and the Rays could also spell Kiermaier, Loney, and Franklin occasionally (with the help of others moving around). Desmond Jennings also isn’t that great against right-handed pitching, so DeJesus could replace him (with Kiermaier sliding to center) against a tough righty.
The best chance for DeJesus to play would have been when Jaso went behind the plate. Then DeJesus could DH and everyone could be happy. However, Jaso is unlikely to catch often between his concussions in recent years and how much the Rays value his bat, so that may only happen a few times all season.
The Rays could find limited opportunities for DeJesus to start–playing him twice a week isn’t so crazy–and he could be a valuable bench bat at other times. The Rays could also use backup plans in case Jaso gets injured or Kiermaier doesn’t hit, and DeJesus fits very well on both fronts. However, now we have to remember that having DeJesus would mean that the Rays could carry neither Francisco nor Beckham on their roster.
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Is it really worthwhile for the Rays to keep David DeJesus when they have Juan Francisco ready to go? If the Rays received a decent enough prospect back for DeJesus, the answer is yes, but DeJesus provides some advantages that Francisco can’t match. While Francisco has much more power than DeJesus, his complete lack of on-base skills has actually made him worse than DeJesus according to OPS and OPS+ each of the last three years.
Positions also matter in this case. Francisco can only play first and third base, and given that he is, like James Loney, a left-handed batter, his opportunities at either position will be sparse. He could obviously spell Jaso at DH, but he couldn’t do anything to replace Jennings or Kiermaier on even an occasional basis. Francisco as a power bat off the Rays’ bench sounds nice, but it really doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The bigger competition for DeJesus would likely be Tim Beckham. Beckham would give the Rays another option at shortstop, and that could be especially valuable against left-handed pitching. At least sometimes he could move Cabrera to second base, Forsythe to DH, Guyer to right field, and Kiermaier to the bench. The Rays could also have him replace Cabrera late in games and do some pinch-running.
Beckham could also coexist with Kiermaier if the Rays decide to sit Loney against a tough lefty. Given his issues with them last season (.601 OPS), that is something that they should be doing more often–the only reason they haven’t been is that others have been even worse versus left-handers. Having Beckham would allow the Rays to use Forsythe at first against lefties on a semi-regular basis if they so desire.
Of course, all of that is assuming that Beckham can hit, and that is no guarantee. While Beckham is an unproven commodity with middling numbers at Triple-A, DeJesus is an established veteran who can still hit right-handed pitching quite well. At the very least, though, it is worth noting that all else equal, the Rays would be better off with a righty-hitting infielder on their bench instead of a lefty-hitting outfielder like DeJesus.
If the Tampa Bay Rays so desire, they can easily keep David DeJesus. Finding him playing time would be difficult but not impossible, and he could prove vital in case of injury or poor performance among the Rays’ other outfielders. Would retaining him be their best move? That is highly debatable. It is certainly defensible, though, and if a suitable trade offer never comes, they will not hesitate to put him on their bench.