Unfortunately for professional baseball players, even a strong spring training performance may not be enough to earn a roster spot. That is the case for Rene Rivera, who was released by the Rays Wednesday, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Rivera was due to make $1.7 million in 2016. In addition, first baseman James Loney was told by the team he will not be a part of its future. Josh Vitale of the Charlotte Sun, who reported Loney's departure, also said he's "not sure if he was traded or released, or if a move has even happened."
The 32-year old Rivera had 28 plate appearances this spring with a .321 average and two doubles. He drove in one run and scored three times. Baseball Reference's OppQual stat says Rivera faced mostly Triple-A and major-league talent, which bolsters his resume from the spring.
Rivera's release comes despite his attempts to improve his swing in the off season. He worked with former Major Leaguer Luis Alicea to improve his coverage of the strike zone, among other things. Manager Kevin Cash said of Rivera, "The adjustments he's (Rivera's) made this off season with Luis Alicea, I think it says a lot about his character that he took the time to do that. He shortened some things up and simplified. Every round of BP has been really good."
If the release of Rivera shows us anything, it's that the Rays seem to be focusing on offensive production even from the catcher position. Rivera is strong on defense, but unimpressive when it comes to hitting. He had a Fangraphs defensive value of 8.1 last season, but an offensive value of -27.2. Curt Casali and Hank Conger lack some of his defense but are more likely to produce at the plate. Luke Maile is most likely the next in line if a third catcher is needed.
Unless the Rays ink Rivera to a minor-league deal, they will be lacking in catching depth at Durham. Most likely the team will sign another veteran catcher to a minor-league deal. Justin O'Conner is on the Durham roster, but they will still most likely need one more catcher there.
Meanwhile, Loney is coming off a 2015 where he struggled mightily, producing -0.6 bWAR. He had a .280/.322/.357 hitting split and hit only four home runs. Overall, Loney does not fit in the mold of what the Rays want at the position i.e. double-digit home runs.
Mat Germain wrote on Rays Colored Glasses of some possible landing spots for Loney. Those were the Angels, Pirates, and Reds. Mat stated Loney's plethora of pro experience and his contract ending after 2016 could be attractive to these teams.
The ultimate move of Loney (whatever it may be) clears the logjam present at first base for the Rays. Now the job will be split between Steve Pearce and Logan Morrison, with Richie Shaffer possibly sliding in as well. On the most recent Hit Show, our own Darby Robinson predicted that Pearce takes the job at first. Regardless, the situation at first is far less murky than it originally was.