Tampa Bay Rays didn’t need Nelson Cruz
By Austin Reimann
With all the fanfare surrounding the possibility that Nelson Cruz might have signed with the Tampa Bay Rays, lets take a step back and ask ourselves if we really even needed the aging DH?
Well… Nelson Cruz is no longer an option for the Tampa Bay Rays as he has reportedly signed with the Minnesota Twins, but don’t panic… the Rays never really needed the him to begin with.
Let’s not forget that the Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games in 2018 and if they entered play today, the 2019 Rays would in all likelihood eclipse that 90 win mark.
Since the season has ended, the Rays front office has added Mike Zunino, Charlie Morton, Emilio Pagan, Yandy Diaz, and Guillermo Heredia while really only losing Jake Bauers (who struggled down the stretch), Mallex Smith (who was due to regress) and C.J. Cron.
This team is already much better than the 2018 group. In Zunino, the Rays get a legitimate backstop to pair with either Cuiffo or Perez or maybe even Realmuto (fingers crossed). By adding Morton, the Rays now have a dominant trio atop their rotation. With Yandy Diaz, the Rays get a more dependable hitter without giving up any years of control and Guillermo Heredia will provide a solid bat and glove off the bench while Emilio Pagan will play a crucial role in the pen in the coming years.
With this in mind, lets take a step back and ask if we really needed to pay for Nelson Cruz who would have only limited the Rays options on the field…? Cruz, who is approaching 40, will only be able to DH, and the Rays won 90 games without an everyday DH. Yes, Cruz brings power to the lineup, but the Rays have already accounted for most of the power they lost in Bauers and Cron by adding Zunino while also expecting Brandon Lowe and Daniel Robertson to play a full season and bring more power to the table.
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Nate Lowe surged through the Rays system last year and is knocking at MLB’s door. Sooner than later he will be an everyday player in Tampa. If they had signed Cruz, Lowe’s arrival would create a pretty significant logjam.
Personally, I’m a big fan of an infield anchored by Adames, Robertson (assuming Duffy is traded), Wendle and Diaz. Brandon Lowe would become and uber-utility player, DHing and playing second, third and the outfield. If they move Duffy and trade for J-Mart, on any given day the Rays would have 3 options to DH, Ji-Man Choi, Brandon Lowe and Diaz/Martinez. (When Lowe arrives there are even more options)
Now, with Cruz off the board, it becomes even more likely the Rays trade for Martinez of the Cardinals. They might not though and opt to give Nate Lowe a chance right out of spring traing, but I think it is more likely that they instead make a trade and give Lowe some more time. Prospect Joe McCarthy is also an option who, like Martinez, would bring added versatility and power.
If they allow Daniel Robertson to get a large portion of the DH at bats with Choi then they don’t necessarily need to move Duffy or trade for Martinez.
As of now, they have options aplenty. But, with those options come questions… Will there be an everyday DH? Will they trade for Martinez? If they do, will they move Duffy? Will they instead rely on McCarthy or Lowe? And this is just scraping the surface…
If they happen to trade for Realmuto and keep Zunino (unlikely), then they will have even more first base and DH options. If they trade for Martinez, then they have plenty of options which I discussed above. If they trade for both, the Rays would enter the season as the most versatile team in baseball. If they trade for neither, they still have enough options to survive and possibly even thrive at the DH spot.
If I had to guess, the Rays will not enter 2019 with an everyday designated hitter, and honestly that is a good thing. There are too many good bats with not enough at-bats to go around in Tampa Bay. At this point, the Rays might even just bide their time until Nate Lowe is ready to make his debut which will bring with it another crunch in the everyday lineup. But, like I always say, only time will tell.
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