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Is Willingham a Fit in Tampa Bay?

The Tampa Bay Rays head into the offseason with a few holes that need to be filled. The census among fans is to trade one or two of our plethora of starting pitching options in order to fill the voids in the lineup.

Last week I covered the catcher conundrum and this week I want to take a look at a few right handed bats that just might be able to contribute and fill a need at first base or designated hitter.

Now, I am not a fan of full-time designated hitters but I do realize that I am in the minority. With Damon having a less-than-stellar season as a full time DH last year and with Casey Kotchman a free agent coming off of a season where he hit over .300 and played excellent defense, the Rays may be looking in another direction.

The first name that popped into my head was Josh Willingham. Willingham will start next season at the age of 33 and is coming off a season where he hit a career high 29 homeruns. But, Willingham also set a career high in strikeout rate at 26.6%, a far cry from his career high of 20.7% in 2009.

Willingham's 9.9% walk rate looks good but not when you realize it's his lowest rate since his first full season when he walked 9.7% of the time. Willingham also set a career low .350 wOBA which coincided with his career low in OBP and AVG. He also had his worst base running season at -2.7 Bsr.

But, some general managers will look at his career rates and career high in homeruns and possibly overpay for the guy who is generally a 2-2.5 fWAR player. He may not be an option the Rays consider unless he can be had for two years and roughly $10M. So, what other options are out there that can hit left handed pitching and the Rays can afford?

There is the fan favorite Jonny Gomes who mashed lefties to the tune of .311/.407.456 last year and has a career line of .281/.376/.503 against south paws. Gomes also is a decent base runner with a career +3.9 Bsr but has never played first and would be relegated to DH unless he learned the position very quickly. Gomes is a decent option to fill a bench role only.

Conor Jackson could be had for very cheap, possibly a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, but he has lost all of his moderate power. He would be a good option on said deal but I would not expect much more than a decent glove and below-average offense.

One name that has always intrigued me is Scott Hairston. He can play all three out field positions and has hit lefties fairly well with a .274/.328/.486 line. But, he has never played first and to put him at DH would be a waste of his defensive value.

My favorite option, outside of a good deal on Willingham, is Andruw Jones. Yes, he will be 35 early next season but he fills a much needed hole in the Rays offense.

Jones is not the Hall-of-Fame caliber player he once was but he is a very undervalued asset the Rays can afford. Jones has power. He has an ISO of .246-.255-.247 the past three seasons and his walk rates in those three seasons are the three highest of his career, with each season being higher than 13%.

Jones can play a corner outfield spot still, and has played a little first base but his most likely role would be to DH and get a few innings in a corner outfield spot.

Jones may not be an everyday player anymore but the Rays need a right-handed bat with patience and power. Jones fits that bill and he absolutely crushes left handed pitching. He hit .286/.384/.540 last year against them and hit .256/.373/.558 against them in 2010.

There are other good options out there, especially left handed bats, but I believe the Rays need a right-handed bat that can crush lefties at well-below market value and Jones is a viable option.

The best option for a first base bat would be via trade but that still would not stop me from offering Jones a contract to play for the Rays in 2012 and play every day against left handed pitching.