What a year it has been for the Tampa Bay Rays on the injury front. James Loney, who entered this season having stayed off the disabled list for his entire nine-year major league career, has now hit the DL twice in one season. First it was an oblique strain in April, and now it is a broken middle finger on his left hand. The Rays haven’t exactly been offensive juggernauts this season, but losing Loney for four to six weeks–plus Steven Souza Jr. and Asdrubal Cabrera for the short-term–puts them especially in trouble.
Marc Topkin suggested the San Francisco Giants’ Casey McGehee and Travis Ishikawa as possibilities to help the Rays. McGehee is no longer under consideration after accepting a minor league assignment from San Francisco. Ishikawa, on the other hand, remains available and could make sense for the Rays while everyone is out. However, given that Ishikawa is making $1.1 million this season, the Rays aren’t going to acquire Ishikawa unless he can stick with the team even after Souza and Cabrera return.
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The Rays are currently lined up to have five players appear in each of their games: Rene Rivera at catcher, Logan Forsythe at first base, Evan Longoria at third base, Kevin Kiermaier in centerfield, and Brandon Guyer in right field. For the remaining four spots, the Rays have David DeJesus and three of Tim Beckham, Nick Franklin, Jake Elmore, and Joey Butler against right-handed pitching, and all of Beckham, Franklin, Elmore, and Butler against lefties. That situation certainly leaves much to be desired.
The Rays do like Franklin against right-handed pitching, but playing two of Beckham, Elmore, and Butler against such pitchers makes no sense. Versus lefties, meanwhile, Beckham may be the best option and the other three do at least have the platoon advantage, but the Rays can certainly improve upon that. Even once Steven Souza Jr. returns (which is presumably the next move) and pushes Guyer to left field, the Rays could still use a lefty bat or a higher-caliber right-handed hitter.
Travis Ishikawa is the type of left-handed platoon bat that the Rays are looking for. He has never been great, but he has long track record of being respectable, hitting to a .259/.322/.397 line (91 OPS+) for his career. He doesn’t hit lefty pitchers much if at all, but he has a .262/.328/.408 line against righties. He is no savior, but he is a veteran hitter with a little bit of pop who has a strong defensive track record at first base and looked decent playing left field in the majors for the first time last season.
While both Souza and Cabrera are out, Ishikawa would start at first base against right-handed pitching and move Forsythe back to second, leaving the need for just one of Beckham or Franklin at shortstop and one of Elmore and Butler in left field. Once Souza returns, then the Rays would have their pick of Beckham and Franklin at shortstop and that would be their only real choice. If they wanted to, they could start two of them and give Guyer a day off, but the bench players would mostly remain on the bench.
Even once Cabrera returns, Ishikawa could see a lot of time at first base. He may occasionally be sat in favor of Franklin or Beckham, with Forsythe sliding to first base when that happens, but he would still be the Rays’ best first base option, especially given his defense. Forsythe hasn’t looked great at first base this season, and having a guy like Ishikawa doing a good James Loney impression would be a nice little boost.
Ishikawa wouldn’t help at all against left-handed pitching, and if he was acquired before Souza came back, he would hurt the Rays against lefty pitching because Joey Butler would be sent down to accommodate him. Either Ishikawa or David DeJesus would need to play against lefties, which is something the Rays would rather avoid. However, once Souza is back, then Butler would be an unnecessary player anyway, and that would be even truer once Cabrera returns.
Travis Ishikawa certainly looks like a potential upgrade for the Rays until James Loney returns, and the only question is the money. The Rays would not want to be on the hook for the remaining money that Ishikawa is owed, which is around $785,000. Even so, we can’t believe that just a couple hundred thousand dollars above the league minimum would be a huge deal for the Rays, and maybe they could reduce that to $700,000 or less by sending the Giants a marginal prospect in return. That should be enough for the type of player the Rays sorely need with James Loney out.