Several Major League Baseball teams have been hit with a rash of injuries this season and no team has been struck harder than the Tampa Bay Rays. At one point the Rays had a dozen players, including 60% or their starting rotation, on the disabled list. However, barring even further injuries, six players should come off the DL in the months of June and July. That’s the good news. The bad news is that roster decisions then have to be made and some of those will be difficult. Let’s take a look at who will be activated and how their returns will affect the team.
The pitching staff will receive a huge boost with the return of Matt Moore. He will slide right into the rotation and Erasmo Ramirez will go to the bullpen for a long relief role. Ernesto Frieri will probably be cut to make room for him on the 25-man roster. Kirby Yates and C.J. Riefenhauser will also be activated and sent to Durham to provide much needed Triple-A depth. That’s the easy part.
The outfield situation won’t be quite as easy to solve. Desmond Jennings will come off the disabled list and join an outfield situation that is very much in flux. Before his knee injury, Jennings was the starting left fielder and was teamed up with Kevin Kiermaier in center and rookie Steven Souza Jr. in right.
Since Jennings’ injury–plus the one to John Jaso–David DeJesus, Brandon Guyer, and roster addition Joey Butler have been manning the left field and DH positions and doing an excellent job offensively. DeJesus, in particular, has been a life saver to an offensively impaired Rays team with a .322/.371/.478 slash line with 18 RBI. But it’s doubtful the team will keep six outfielders, so someone has to go.
The infield is not quite as jumbled but there will have to be decisions made. James Loney will come off the DL late June or early July and return to first base. That will give the Rays their opening day infield with great defense and three hitters who are having good seasons. The bench is a bit more confusing. Right now, the backups are Tim Beckham, Nick Franklin, and Jake Elmore.
Beckham got off to a great start offensively off the bench with good power before looking iffier since. Franklin has shown very little but the Rays seem determined to let him sink or swim at the major leagues level. Elmore would seem to be the odd man out, but he has been knocking the cover off the ball in limited appearances and can play all over the diamond. It seems unlikely that all three will make the revised roster.
Finally, designated hitter John Jaso will eventually return. Jaso got exactly one at-bat before he went down to yet another injury. Jaso was obtained for his bat and, in particular, his on-base percentage. In the meantime, others have excelled as a DH. He has a $3.5 million contract, but he is limited in the field and his job is in doubt.
So how will the Rays handle this traffic jam? They need to move three players in order to reach the normal roster allocation of thirteen position players. Conventional baseball wisdom is last in and first out and that means Butler, Elmore, and either Beckham or Franklin will be sent down. I would have the Rays go in a slightly different direction and move Jaso for a prospect and let DeJesus and Butler DH, option Elmore to be Triple-A depth, and demote Franklin to help him find his game.
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All of that is of right now–there are certainly a variety of factors that could change the Rays’ thinking. For instance, Butler is playing well, but his 19-2 strikeout to walk ratio doesn’t inspire confidence. Franklin’s 5-3 mark says the opposite, and he could be primed to improve. If three bench players begin to slump, then the Rays’ decision will be easy. If everyone plays well, then the Rays will find themselves in an enviable position and will look to make a trade. The worry, though, is that the backups will all look mediocre and make things even harder for this team.
All of this is complicated and none of it assures that the Tampa Bay Rays will put up better offensive numbers than they have shown to date. Only improved performance by Asdrubal Cabrera, Desmond Jennings, Steven Souza Jr., and Rene Rivera can make that happen. Let’s hope that becomes a reality and that players like David DeJesus and Logan Forsythe remain hot as well to lead the Rays to meaningful games in September.