In swapping Logan Forsythe for Jose De Leon, the Rays exacerbated their weakness against left handed pitchers, making it imperative for the team to add another righty bat who can mash lefties, should the team truly want to be competitive in 2017.
The bright side is that the move pushed the team’s projected payroll under $60 million enabling them to competitively pursue a couple of free agents or accommodate another trade, and it’s not out of the question for them to free up another $4.2 million if they elect to move Alex Cobb.
The presence of the versatile Brad Miller who is capable of shifting to second base should allow Erik Neander to focus his attention on adding a 1B/DH type of player with their market value cratering rather than shell out money for someone like Chase Utley. As such, here is an updated look at the some of those right handed bat options still available:
The 35 year old Mike Napoli is looking for a multiyear deal; however, if the report from ESPN’s Buster Olney that the Rangers are insisting on only one guaranteed season is true, Napoli could find himself taking his services elsewhere.
Yesterday, Marc Topkin tweeted that Tampa Bay had already checked in on the free agent first baseman:
In looking for a RH bat after trading Forsythe, #Rays have now checked in on Mike Napoli, the best available, among others.— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) January 25, 2017
It’s unclear if Tampa would offer him more than one year, but perhaps they’d get involved in the bidding at $7-12 million a season was all the market was bringing.
In addition to absolutely crushing southpaws, Napoli managed a .239/.335/.465 slash line this past season to go along with 34 homers, so he’d bring the Rays some comparable offensive value to Forsythe. Unfortunately, his defense took a step backwards at 1B last season even if he’s still a superior every day glove when compared to Chris Carter.
Fresh off a down season hitting below the Mendoza line, Carter rebounded in 2016 (well, by his standards) to jack 41 home runs. He’s always going to be an all or nothing type of bat, but the consistent production against lefties would be a much needed boost to the Rays lineup.
Carter’s career -7.1 UZR/150 at first base renders him more suited for DH duty than regularly time in the field, so he will need to continue to maximize his offensive value if he hopes to justify more regular playing time. His hope of landing on a team with a regular at bats to boost his stock for a multiyear deal is ultimately going to be more of a factor than the team’s ability to compete, which is a commodity the Rays happen to possess.
Billy Butler hasn’t been a particularly popular name this offseason but that’s precisely what could make him a cheap fall back option if the Rays miss out on the top tier of remaining guys. Given that he hasn’t regularly played the field since 2010, Butler would primarily be a DH to platoon with Dickerson, unless Rasmus should falter.
He’s looked like a shell of the player he used to be, but there were a few positives surfacing last season that could pique the interest of a major league team. For one, he hit balls at a much better angle that saw his line drive rate jump to nearly 29%, a career high, while significantly reducing infield popups. It’s just one season, so it could regress closer to career norms even with a changed approach.
Additionally, Butler rebounded from a mid season release by the Athletics to post a stellar .330 in 37 games for the Bronx Bombers.
The 33-year old outfielder/DH has always crushed lefties like few other players in the league could, but his inability to play 1B limits his value. What he does provide is a platoon partner for Rasmus or Dickerson if the team considers internal options at 2B are a palatable decision heading into the season.
It’ s not a flashy option, but you could do a lot worse than a quality role player with veteran experience on a one year $1-2 million contract.
Like Gutierrez, Raburn is an OF/DH option who offers little more than platoon skill to an already crowded outfield. He had a dismal 2017 season for the Rockies striking out in 31.3% of plate appearances, so he’d need to find a way bring that down closer to his career 24.7% to be particularly more useful than someone like Jason Coats.
Although Johnson is listed as a 1B/3B, his career UZR/150 of -11.7 at the hot corner warrant a full time move to first base where he’s produced above average defensive numbers thus far in 800 innings, which is encouraging even if the jury is still out. His declining power as an already low homer guy leaves a lot to be desired for a 1B, so he’s a stronger option as bench player than a full time guy; yet, with only the Marlins rumored to have any interest, he could likely be had for quite a bargain.
Wieters is actually a switch hitter with better splits against right handed arms, but his name was floated as a option for the team as recently as this afternoon.
Add Billy Butler to list of RHH hitters #Rays have interest in. Also heard someone mention Matt Wieters, though seems an unlikely match..— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) January 26, 2017
After earning $15 million in 2017, his mediocre performance has resulted in a scarce market. Perhaps, the one benefit of Wieters is that his skills behind the plate would give him the opportunity to have a clear path to playing time while allowing Wilson Ramos to ease his way back even slower than was planned.
Wieters was once upon a time an incredible threat at the plate, and in 2014 posted a 112 wRC+ against southpaws. Even with his below-replacement-level showing at the plate from 2015-2016, his career vs LHP is still an impressive 114 wRC+ as well. If his market continues to evaporate, the Rays just might become a viable option for a place where Wieters can rebuild his value... should the team think he’s capable.
In short, the Rays don’t have a lot of worthwhile options on the free agent market if they’re hoping to sign an everyday player.
Should they miss out on both Napoli and Carter in Tier 1, it’s a good bet they’ll either settle for internal options or pursue a trade, and with the White Sox in the midst of a full blown fire sale, maybe it’d be worthwhile to explore a Todd Frazier trade.