We don’t usually appreciate depth as much as we should. Every team has it to some extent, keeping some combination of veterans and prospects at Triple-A, but few franchises have players who can do more than just fill in, at least before the prospects get a few month to develop. Rarely do we see a small-market team pay millions of dollars to a player who will not have a starting spot if all goes well. However, that was exactly the position in which the Tampa Bay Rays found themselves with David DeJesus as he was blocked for playing time despite a $5 million salary.
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The Rays were set to have an outfield of Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, and Steven Souza Jr. from left to right along with John Jaso at designated hitter. Kiermaier and especially Jaso were going to see days off against left-handed pitchers, but DeJesus was a lefty bat himself so there were still no obvious opportunities available for him to receive at-bats. The Rays weren’t going to sit any of the players ahead of DeJesus on the depth chart more than occasionally, so he was essentially going to be an expensive pinch-hitter.
Given that reality, it made sense that the Rays were trying to trade him, even if it meant sending some money to the acquiring team. DeJesus was a good player, but the difference between him and the next best bench bat was not $4 million or more. The other consideration, though, was that DeJesus would be an excellent Plan B in a variety of scenarios. Jaso was injury-prone while Jennings was coming off a knee injury. Kiermaier had cooled off following a hot start at the plate in 2014 while Souza was unproven. If any of them faltered, DeJesus would be there.
As we know, DeJesus has been among the Tampa Bay Rays’ best hitters this season. He has hit to a .322/.371/.478 line (139 OPS+) with 6 doubles, 4 homers, and 18 RBI in 124 plate appearances. Thanks to all of the injuries, he has made just under half of his starts in the outfield, and he has done a very good job there as well according to DRS, UZR, and FRAA. The eye test confirms that as well as he has made a series of outstanding catches without an obvious misplay. Where would the Rays be without DeJesus?
Is it just luck that DeJesus remained with the Rays after he was long rumored to be traded? If the Rays had received a halfway-decent offer for DeJesus, would he be starring for some other team right now? The answer might be yes, but there is a real chance that there are more factors in play here. The Rays likely had a caliber of prospect in mind as DeJesus’ trade value, but they may have asked for something more than that because they needed to justify losing the depth he would provide them. They weren’t just going to accept the first decent offer.
Whatever exactly happened this offseason and through the end of spring training, David DeJesus is still a Ray and has joined Logan Forsythe and Evan Longoria in carrying his team’s offense. Maybe he should have ended up elsewhere or maybe the Rays were never going to trade him unless they received a great offer, but no matter what, he has been worth his salary and more thus far this season. Things will get complicated once Jaso and Jennings return, but the Rays will ride DeJesus’ strong play as long as possible and worry about that when it actually happens.