Why do the Tampa Bay Rays always have so many starting pitchers? Why didn’t they trade David DeJesus sooner? What’s the point of paying attention to the Rays’ minor league signings who have no MLB experience? Each of those questions has been asked by Rays fans in recent months, but the start to 2015 answered each of them. Without way too many Triple-A starters, DeJesus’ continued presence on the roster, and minor league signings like Allan Dykstra, the Rays would be in an even worse predicament.
With that in mind, their re-signing of Alexi Casilla to a minor league deal, as reported by the Durham Bulls, is a subtle signing but still an important one. Casilla, 30, is nothing special at this point in his career. He hasn’t hit in the major leagues since 2011, and it is questionable whether his career has any juice left. Even so, the Rays are thrilled to have Casilla back after they released him to avoid paying a $100,000 retention fee.
Considering that Jake Elmore was much closer to making the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster than Alexi Casilla, he would seem to be the player in line for a call-up in case of another injury to any of the Rays’ remaining infielders. If the Rays are looking for regular at-bats from the player they call up, though, Casilla may just be the player who they choose. While Elmore has more versatility, Casilla beats him out in a couple of key regards.
Jake Elmore could be an interesting guy for the Rays as a 25th man at some point, but there is no reason to think that he can hit right-handed pitching. Casilla’s .643 OPS against them in his big league career looks bad until we compare it to Elmore’s .552 mark. Elmore has looked better against lefties, and he might be an option if Tim Beckham falters, but if the Rays are looking for a fill-in against right-handed pitching, Casilla is a better bet.
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Casilla is also a better defender on the middle infield. It is great that Elmore can play literally everywhere, but if the Rays need a starting second baseman or shortstop, Casilla will be the guy who will deliver better fielding results on a day-to-day basis. Casilla is also a much better baserunner, having stolen 80 bases in 91 tries in his MLB career. Elmore is a modest stolen base threat in his own right, but he wouldn’t be nearly as good of a pinch-running candidate as Casilla.
Hopefully the Tampa Bay Rays would bypass both of them if they face another injury–and hopefully the run of injuries is about to stop–but it is always nice for them to have another player available who could help their roster if need be. The Rays are certainly hoping that Casilla doesn’t see any big league time for them this year, but in a season of worst-case scenarios, they have to be ready for whatever comes next.