The Tampa Bay Rays have unsurprisingly stayed quiet on the free agent market this off season. That said, we are under two months away from the start of spring training. At this point some free agents may recognize that their markets have not developed as they had hoped. Is this the time when the Rays could swoop in and make a deal or two?
While we should not expect a big splash, the Rays will likely look to round out their roster over the coming weeks with some minor league signings and maybe a cheap big league addition.
With that in mind, the Rays should target former Colorado Rockies' catcher/first baseman Wilin Rosario.
Rosario has been with the Rockies since making his MLB debut in 2011. He looked to be establishing himself as the Rockies' catcher of the future in 2012, posting numbers at the plate that were strong even by the lofty standards that come with hitting at Coors Field. He hit to the tune of a .270/.312/.530 line with a 107 wRC+, and Defensive Runs Saved graded him as a roughly average defender at -1. More advanced metrics tell more nuanced stories, but that does the trick.
He followed that up with another good 2013 season, hitting .292/.315/.48 with a 104 wRC+. His DRS was once again right around average at -2, and, altogether, he was worth a solid 2.1 fWAR. Over the past two seasons, however, Rosario has seen his stock fall. His batting line fell to .267/.305/.435 in 2014, and taking into account the hitter-friendly nature of Coors Field, he was a 15% below-league-average hitter according to his 85 wRC+. His defense also slipped according to DRS, which said he was worth 8 runs below the leave-average catcher.
If 2014 was bad for Rosario, 2015 was even worse as he was ranked as almost a full win below replacement according to fWAR. His performance at the plate continued to decline, as he slashed just .268/.295/.416 with a 73 wRC+. The Rockies also lost faith in his defense at catcher, giving him just 17.0 innings at the position and moving him to first base for the bulk of the season. They even sent him to the minors at one point, and they tried again in November. Now out of options, Rosario elected free agency from the Rockies and remains unsigned.
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All that said, Rosario still could be intriguing given his past success at the plate, and a team will certainly take a flier on him this off season.
For the Rays', he could provide much-needed depth at catcher and first base, where the club might be thinner than it appears at first glance. The team currently has three catchers vying for two spots: Hank Conger, Curt Casali and Rene Rivera.
In the interest of depth, the team could elect to keep Conger and Rivera on the big league roster with Casali at Triple-A, but after Rivera's disastrous 2015, Casali appears to be a better option to pair with Conger. However, doing so would expose depth issues, as Rivera would likely have to be released or traded to accommodate Casali and Conger on the big-league roster.
This would leave Luke Maile and Justin O'Conner as the two other catchers on the 40-man roster, but both looked over-matched at the plate in the minors last season and would hardly be desirable fill-in options.Having Rosario around would shore up this depth a bit. The club could go with a Casali-Conger tandem knowing that they at least have a guy around who has had success in the big leagues in the past.
In addition, the lone right-handed option to pair with lefties James Loney and Logan Morrison at first base is currently Richie Shaffer. Despite some power and solid minor-league results, he hit just .189 in his big league cameo last year and struck out a remarkable 36.4% of the time.The Rays might not be able to accommodate a right handed first baseman on the roster if Loney is not dealt, but it would be nice to have right-handed depth at first for that occasional southpaw.
Rosario would likely only interest the Rays on a minor-league deal, but after his struggles the past two seasons, that might be possible. That low-risk nature of a minor-league deal would be perfect for the team, and if it was a successful acquisition, he comes with the added benefit of being under team control through 2018.
Depth is always important, and the Rays could use another body at catcher and first base. Rosario certainly fits that bill, and his upside could be intriguing for the team, making for an ideal veteran presence waiting in the wings.