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John Jaso’s Outfield Progress The Last Straw for David DeJesus

By Robbie Knopf

Assuming Steven Souza begins 2015 on the Tampa Bay Rays’ Opening Day roster, there is only one reason for the Rays to possibly keep David DeJesus: depth. While he would have no obvious starting spot available, he would be ready in case Souza or Kevin Kiermaier disappoints or if John Jaso, Desmond Jennings, or James Loney gets injured.

There is no guarantee that Jaso will stay healthy, and that is the single best reason to keep DeJesus around. However, Jaso’s own actions have made DeJesus’ ability to be a backup plan in the outfield much less valuable. Jaso has looked so good in his first experience as an outfielder that Kevin Cash has moved up his timetable to play there from the end of the spring to the Rays’ third or fourth exhibition game.

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Jaso caught Cash’s eyes during drills in the outfield, so there is no guarantee that he will actually be an average or better outfielder in games. Considering that DeJesus has been a below-average defender him for years now, though, the odds are certainly in favor of Jaso being as good or better than him, at least in left field. With most of the Rays’ outfielders able to play both left and right field and Kiermaier a backup in center, Jaso’s ability to play left is all the Rays need.

Of course, John Jaso is still injury-prone himself. This certainly isn’t a perfect system. However, DeJesus was also on the DL for a lengthy stint in 2014, and at a certain point, having too much depth is simply being pedantic.

Jaso will be a backup for most situations, and it is also plausible that Brandon Guyer could see time against right-handed pitching after his solid showing against them last season. Down at Triple-A, meanwhile, the dream is for the Rays to keep Juan Francisco there, but if not, Mikie Mahtook and Ryan Brett are two prospects worth mentioning. Allan Dykstra and Corey Brown also give the Rays a pair of lefty hitters at Durham who could be temporary fill-ins.

It will be DeJesus starting the Rays’ first spring training game in left over Jaso, but that is to be expected. The Rays are trying to showcase him and make a deal come together as quickly as possibility. DeJesus is owed $5 million for this season plus a $1 million buyout of his 2016 option. Given that he remains a strong hitter (if not Jaso-esque) against right-handed pitching, though, a contending team could view such a contract as relatively fair.

The Rays may need to chip in a million or two of the money that DeJesus is owed, but a deal will come together if they desire it. At this point, that certainly looks like the most likely outcome. We will be seeing plenty of David DeJesus in Rays spring training the next few weeks, but once the regular season begins, the expectation is that he will be wearing a different uniform.

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