Under normal circumstances, the Tampa Bay Rays acquisition of Peter Bourjos would barely warrant a mention. However, it is a sign that the Rays are dedicated to building what may be the best defensive outfield in the game.
After going away from their typical philosophy or speed and defense, the Tampa Bay Rays appear to be coming back to their original plans. The outfield will be a much more athletic group, particularly when Mallex Smith eventually joins perennial Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier. Colby Rasmus is considered to have one of the better outfield arms, and Steven Souza has quietly graded out as one of the better outfielders in the game.
With the acquisition of Peter Bourjos, the Rays outfield defense has gone to another level. While he will not do much of anything with the bat, given his career .243/.300/.382 batting line, he has been quite excellent with the glove. Bourjos has saved 32 runs as an outfielder in his six year career, and with his experience in center, gives the Rays yet another layer of depth.
Given those moves, it is not a surprise that Fangraphs would consider the Rays to have the best outfield defense in the game. However, it is surprising how much of a difference there is between the Rays and the second place Boston Red Sox. Tampa Bay is projected to save 7.1 runs more than Boston, a total that is equal or greater than 21 teams projections.
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That defense would be even better should the Rays play Kiermaier, Smith, and Bourjos together. As unlikely as such an alignment would be, given that Smith is destined for Durham, it would be difficult for any ball to find the outfield grass. Such an alignment could easily be the best defensive outfield seen in quite some time.
This is what the Rays are eyeing in the next year or two. While Bourjos was brought in as a depth piece this season, the future in the outfield is bright. A likely alignment featuring Smith, Kiermaier, and Souza could be special. And, for the Rays pitching staff, their ability to track down fly balls could be quite the boon to their run prevention goals.
Over the past couple of years, the Rays had changed their philosophy. Yes, Kiermaier was still patrolling center, but they were more focused on improving their power than continuing a system that had worked. Now, the Rays are going back to the beginning, building a more dynamic defense, beginning with the outfield.
Peter Bourjos may not the type of acquisition that sends shock waves through the baseball world, but it is a perfect move for the Tampa Bay Rays. He signals a return to the ideas of a few years ago, and hopefully, a return to contention.