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Tampa Bay Rays: Should a Spot Be Cleared for Richie Shaffer?

By Robbie Knopf
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When you’re a team that had postseason aspirations, it is certainly considered negative when you need to resort to selling. The reality is, though, that there are some situations when dealing a veteran to acquire a prospect can actually help your present in addition to your future. Richie Shaffer is currently blocked in the minor leagues, and should David DeJesus or James Loney be dealt, a spot would be opened up for him on the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster.

Richie Shaffer comes with disclaimers. Shaffer, the Rays’ first round pick in 2012, was regarded lightly enough entering the season that the Rays started him at Double-A for a second straight season. However, he hit well enough to earn a promotion to the Triple-A Durham Bulls at the end of May, and he has done nothing but hit since. He has a .282/.377/.654 line with 16 home runs in 183 Triple-A plate appearances. He has struck out in 26.8% of his PA’s, but he has also walked 12.6% of the time and has enough power to make up for any strikeout problems in the big leagues.

Shaffer still isn’t great against breaking pitches and he will surely receive a steady diet of those once he cracks the majors. Even so, it is not as though he needs to hit like crazy to be an improvement in the Rays’ lineup. The Rays would need to trade at least one of David DeJesus and James Loney to accommodate Shaffer, and DeJesus has a .264/.328/.386 line (100 OPS+) while Loney is at .253/.308/.343 (83 OPS+). The standard for Shaffer to improve upon that is so low, especially because he possesses the attribute that neither of them have much of: power.

The Rays need a better platoon partner for Loney at the very least, and Shaffer mashes lefties, hitting them to a .291/.403/.691 line on the year. But he also has been extremely impressive against righties, managing a .268/.362/.536 line, and he deserves a chance to play everyday against righties as well. Shaffer only plays third base and first base right now, but he was regarded as a potential right fielder in the past and could almost certainly play a good left field if the Rays give him some time to learn the position.

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Trading James Loney would be difficult for the Rays given how poorly he has played. He is owed around $3.5 million for the remainder of this season and then $9.7 million next year–the fact that the Rays backloaded his contracts hurts them here. Teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, and Washington Nationals may have some interest in him because their current first base options don’t hit much and are poor defenders, but it’s not as though Loney would be a huge upgrade for any of them, and they would not want to pay him much. The Rays would have to pay at least half of Loney’s salary for a deal to be even a remote possibility.

Instead, the Rays could trade DeJesus, who has admittedly been more productive but is not good enough to keep Shaffer in the minor leagues. The return on any deal would not be great given his age, but the Rays could get likely get a prospect of some kind without paying any of his remaining obligations, around $3 million. Even if the Rays execute such a trade, though, would that really open up full-time at-bats for Shaffer?

If only DeJesus was traded, Shaffer would still likely take nearly all of Loney’s at-bats against left-handed pitching. Left field would be more complicated, but John Jaso can play the position, and the Rays could form a rotation to get Shaffer at-bats. They could switch off between 1) playing Jaso in left field, Loney at first, and Shaffer at DH, 2) playing Jaso at DH, Shaffer at first, and Brandon Guyer in left, and 3) playing Shaffer at DH, Loney at first, and Guyer in left.

The Rays would like to get Jaso in the lineup as much as possible, but they would also be more comfortable if he was DHing most of the time. However, given that Guyer has outhit Loney (and is a strong outfield defender), playing him more often isn’t so crazy, and this would all hopefully just be a temporary measure until Shaffer is ready to play left field and opens up plenty more possibilities for Kevin Cash. We would hope that the Rays would be able to play Shaffer in the outfield at Triple-A for the next week and make his outfield debut in the majors come as shortly as possible.

Calling up Richie Shaffer and trading David DeJesus would be a selling move in name only–there is a good chance that it would make the Rays a better team. Given that this is the type of transaction would have made sense for the Tampa Bay Rays even if they were 10 games above .500, however, the big red flag is that Shaffer hasn’t yet played left field a single time at Triple-A. If the Rays considered him a true major league option, we have to believe that the process of teaching him the new position would have began a couple of weeks ago if not earlier.

All of the indications are that the Rays don’t believe that Shaffer can help them yet. We could still see him in September as Loney’s platoon partner, but he still needs work on his plate approach before the team can be confident that he can produce well in their lineup. The only question is whether the Rays’ calculations will change given their recent poor play and the increasing likelihood that they will sell. If so, expect Shaffer to play the outfield soon at Durham in preparation of his big league debut.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Richie Shaffer One of Few Highlights

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