No team would ever carry seven infielders unless it is September, right? In 2019, the ever-innovative Tampa Bay Rays could very well do away with convention yet again.
Predicting the Rays construction of next year’s 25-man roster is rather difficult. The difficulty not only exists when discussing which position players will make the opening day roster but also while discussing how many starters, openers, and bulk guys they will carry in 2019. For the purposes of this discussion we will look at a possible use of an unconventional number of Rays infielders.
Even if the Tampa Bay Rays move on from Matt Duffy, C.J. Cron, Ji-Man Choi, they are still left with a glut of fielders in 2019, especially infielder and I honestly don’t expect to see Duffy, Cron, or Choi in a Rays uniform come opening day.
I do however, expect them to replace the void left by Choi and Cron with a power hitting first baseman such as Paul Goldschmidt or Jose Abreu. With the addition of a power hitting first baseman, the Rays alleviate the need for a designated hitter, as Bauers would slip into a do-everything role of sorts with the ability to play in the outfield, at first, or even as a DH.
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With the versatility of Bauers, the Rays would no longer need to pursue the 38-year-old free agent power hitting designated hitter, Nelson Cruz. This opening allows the Rays and Kevin Cash to get creative and this is where the aforementioned convention slowly evaporates.
With infielders Jake Bauers, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle, and Brandon Lowe all receiving time in the outfield last year, it is obvious the Rays are confident in their infielder’s abilities to man the corner outfield positions. There is no reason to believe that the confidence the Rays and Kevin Cash showed would change in 2019.
If the Rays don’t sign Nelson Cruz to be their everyday DH, who would fill the void on a day-to-day basis? It could be the fourth outfielder or one of their powerful young infielders.
DH-ing a fielder rather than an actual DH such as Nelson Cruz, allows for two things. The first being the increased versatility on the Rays roster, the second being , an actual threat of speed on the bases, compared to Cruz’s speed which has limited him to 7 stolen bases since 2015. Speed is a valuable commodity for a Rays team that values contact over power and likes to aggressively move and send runners.
If the Rays added power and production similar to Nelson Cruz’s numbers at first base, they alleviate the need to pay Cruz, thus freeing a roster spot for one of their young bats.
Here is an example of which fielders (minus catchers) the Rays might begin 2019 with:
The Rays would carry 4 outfielders:
The Rays would carry 7 infielders:
- RHH, Power hitting first baseman: Ex: Goldschmidt or Abreu
- RHH, Willy Adames
- LHH, Jake Bauers*
- LHH, Joey Wendle*
- RHH, Daniel Robertson*
- LHH, Brandon Lowe*
- RHH, Christian Arroyo*
Where could the 7 infielders play
- 1st Base: Bauers* and PTBNL
- 2nd Base: Wendle*, Lowe*, Robertson*
- SS: Adames
- 3rd Base: Robertson*, Arroyo*, Lowe*
-(*) denotes the ability to play in the outfield
This combination infielders and outfielders gives Cash a plethora of options regarding lineup construction and in-game substitutions. The added ability of five of the seven infielders to play in the outfield also provides even more options at Cash’s disposal. If three of the four outfielders started, Kevin Cash is left with the remaining outfielder and three infielders when picking a DH for the day.
Any of the options above provide a power threat, maybe not to the extent that Cruz does, but a power threat nonetheless. I am aware that Nelson Cruz provides a real thump in the middle of a lineup, but as he approaches the age of 40, there is no guarantee of a continued power threat.
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All I can say is this, The Tampa Bay Rays rely on being unconventional and this type of roster construction seems to fit their style (squeezing the absolute most that they can out of a 25-man roster). The added versatility and flexibility that carrying 7 infielders gives the Rays may just be too good to pass up this coming season. We will see…