The Rays Bench: Why Bourgeois?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays activated Brandon Gomes from the disabled list a few days ago, and the reliever got one opportunity on Saturday to prove his worth since his extended rehab stint in the minors.

Pitching in a losing effort by the Rays, Gomes allowed one run on two hits, while striking out two batters in the eighth inning. Hit pitches looked sharper than earlier this season before the injury in May, and maybe he was more effective than before, but Gomes was demoted all the same.

The other recently promoted player was Jason Bourgeois.

When Desmond Jennings was discovered to have a micro-fracture in his finger, the Rays chose to rest their center fielder and required another outfielder for the big leagues. Looking down to Durham, it just so happened that plan-B outfielder Brandon Guyer had a fractured finger of his own (and more seriously at that).

The Rays could have re-promoted Ryan Roberts when Jennings was injured, given his major league acumen and experience with the Rays over the last two seasons, but to effectively replace Jennings's defense and maintain a blanaced bench, the Rays purchased the minor-league contract of utility outfielder Jason Bourgeois.

Since his promotion, the 31-year old Texan has hit a celebratory walk off (pictured above), but if you remember last night's game, you found Bourgeois rather frustrating. A pinch hit tapper that failed to get either base runner home, and a snow cone in left field that melted out of his glove. The Rays held on to win, but those were two detrimental plays.

When the time came to activate Jennings back from the disabled list, a corresponding move was necessary yesterday afternoon. The Rays could have demoted his replacement in Bourgeois, but there are many reasons that would have been unwise.

Contract

Jason Bourgeois was signed to a minor league contract and then purchased by the team. In order for him to be sent back to the minors, Bourgeois would be allowed to decline assignment and attempt to find a new team, or he would be run through waivers where he could be claimed.

To allow Bourgeois to walk now would seriously jeopardize the depth the Rays have held to so precariously. With Guyer injured, the next outfielders on the depth chart are Shelley Duncan and Rich Thompson. Bourgeois likely could have cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Durham, but Gomes already had his option activated this season. It was the risk-free move.

You could argue that Gomes (who can return when rosters expand) is a great arm and the Rays should have demoted a different reliever instead, but chances are you'd mean the seldom used Cesar Ramos, and he is out of options.

Logistics

When Jennings returned, there was another complicating factor: Luke Scott had already found himself on the Disabled List with a lower back injury. If the Rays were to have designated Bourgeois instead of Gomes, as might have been planned, they would have carried a three-man bench and a nine-man bullpen.

An upcoming off day will allow the Rays to skip Roberto Hernandez's upcoming start against the Yankees and Joe Maddon is expected to use the Rays fifth-man out of the 'pen during that time. A position player provides balance and match-up possibilities to the roster, as Maddon showed last night.

Tools

An ideal bench player can fill a utility need, hit for contact, and function as a pinch runner.

Sean Rodriguez and Sam Fuld fill these ideals nicely, but some might say carrying Bourgeois and Fuld is a redundancy. This discredits the rest of the Rays roster's ability to change positions at will, specifically between the infield and outfield.

I would also argue that a player able to hit left-handed pitching is useful on the Rays bench, and although Fuld has hit well against southpaws over his seven-year career, this changes on a year-to-year basis, and he bats from the left side.

Furthermore, even if you wanted someone different on the bench, who would replace Bourgeois?

Ryan Roberts is also right handed, and less "redundant" due to his ability to play the infield (limited to 2B/3B), but a lesser bat this season -- of available RHB's, Bourgeois's .321 wOBA in Durham is better than Roberts, and the two likely have similar splits -- and in regards to base running, I'm willing to wager Bourgeois is faster. The spry outfielder is 21-for-26 in stolen base attempts in Durham this season, Roberts is 1-for-4 between the majors and Triple-A.

Conclusion

Rosters expand on September 1, and in less than two weeks we'll have Gomes and Roberts back on the roster.

With Scott on the disabled list, I do not see a logical reason to cut Bourgeois and risk losing him to the market or another team. He's an effective baserunner with 31 swiped bags in his last major league season with the Astros in 2011, the rest of the roster can cover the infield should he move into the defensive rotation, and the wait will be short before the rest of the crew arrives.

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