The Rays have added left-handed hitting OF Colby Rasmus to a one year deal but there is still another important move to make. They must add a right-handed bat that can handle lefties, first base experience preferred. With five left-handed bats expected to make the opening day roster (Kevin Kiermaier, Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Colby Rasmus, and Nick Franklin — technically a switch-hitter but one who can’t hit lefties) this line up will be awfully vulnerable to the Chris Sales and David Prices of the ALE.
The free agent market has a few quality options available at various price points. Who the Rays can sign will be determined by how much money they have to work with (which is also a question of whether they can move any of their more expensive players).
Tier 1 - Last 3 Seasons vs LHP
|Jose Bautista||OF, DH||36||374||0.270||0.390||0.511||149|
|Mark Trumbo||1B, DH, OF||31||441||0.237||0.290||0.460||100|
We’ve beaten the Jose Bautista horse to death over the last month, and it’s unlikely to happen, so there probably isn’t more to add. However, if his market tumbles even more the Rays should keep in touch and be willing to add the equivalent of the $7MM closer in 2010.
Mark Trumbo has been the worse bat against LHP among all players that will be discussed. If he signs in the area of 2/$24MM as suggested by Brian Andersbot there is some intrigue here. I like his glove at first. The money could be offset if the Rays are able to trade someone like Drew Smyly or Logan Forsythe.
Tier 2 - Last 3 Seasons vs LHP
|Mike Napoli||1B, DH||35||513||0.278||0.398||0.496||143|
|Chris Carter||1B, DH||30||428||0.222||0.335||0.486||123|
This is the tier of bat the Rays might be able to land. Mike Napoli is older and likely to get paid more. He has hit LHP better, but Chris Carter beat out Napoli in 2016, 126 wRC+ to 120 wRC+. Napoli has been a much better defensive first baseman.
Either of these players would be good additions to the Rays roster, but I would prefer the younger and likely cheaper alternative in Chris Carter. The advantage Napoli has defensively is a luxury and not a necessity. Add in serious injury concerns for Napoli as he had to renegotiate a 3/$39MM deal he had with the Red Sox due to avascular necrosis, a degenerative disorder that kills bone tissue in both of his hips.
I would rather have more good players that you don’t mind if they’re pushed into a larger role and both of these bats fit that profile.
Catch and Release
Tier 3 - Last 3 Seasons vs LHP
|Chris Johnson||1B, 3B||32||330||0.315||0.362||0.433||120|
What if the Rays can’t sign one of these top or middle tier free agents?
Then they go to Plan B (which could include an early promotion for Casey Gillaspie, which means a free agent RH bat need not play first base).
Franklin Gutierrez is borderline middle tier, but he’s not a guy you want playing everyday. He should be more expensive than the other options in this tier, but he also brings one of the best bats against LHP to the table. Earlier this off-season I discussed why he makes sense as the LF platoon partner for Corey Dickerson, and not much has changed since then. You could also use him to pinch hit for Dickerson, Rasmus, or Kiermaier if you needed runs late in the game against a LHP and stick him in a corner.
Dae-Ho Lee is coming off his first season in the majors since coming over from South Korea’s KBO. He had a productive first season as a platoon 1B bat. Last year he signed a one year deal worth $1MM guaranteed with $3MM in incentives. He joins Chris Johnson as the only players with significant experience at first base in this tier.
Ryan Raburn is the high variance version of Gutierrez. Last year he only hit 105 wRC+ against LHP and in four of his nine seasons in the majors he has posted below 100 wRC+. However he also has had incredible peak seasons of 182, 172, 150, and 148 wRC+. In 2015 he put up a 172 wRC+. He should be cheap and easy to release if he fails without too much harm.
Chris Johnson will play in the final season of a 3/$23.5MM extension signed with Atlanta in 2014. He was DFA’d by Cleveland last off-season, which had acquired him in a bad contract swap with Atlanta for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, so he won’t require more than major league minimum. He’s coming off a bad season with the Marlins. He only hit 65 wRC+ against LHP, but the previous three years he hit 107, 177, and 163 wRC+. He was an absolute disaster defensively at 3B, but has been above average in a very small sample at first base.
Drew Stubbs is the least inspiring player in this tier. He hasn’t been good since 2014. The last two years he has bounced around the league spending time with the Rockies, Rangers, Orioles, and Braves. He would bring a speed element to the table that no other player would provide. He was successful on nine of ten stolen base attempts last year in less than 100 PA. He’s the most likely of the group to receive a minor league deal and I would be fine with that.
Wilson Ramos and the Rays have both mentioned that Ramos could be used as a designated hitter as he comes back from his ACL tear. If the front office feels comfortable with Casey Gillaspie being their backup 1B and first guy called up should Brad Miller go down they don’t have to limit their search for a designated hitter to guys that have played first base in the past.