In December I wrote about Franklin Gutierrez being a free agent target for the Tampa Bay Rays. Six weeks later a lot of things have changed as the front office has reshaped the roster.
The Rays have signed Colby Rasmus and traded for Mallex Smith to reinforce their outfield, but Rasmus and Smith are both left handed bats, which adds to the left handed slant of the outfield when you add Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier.
Four out of the five players expected to see time in the outfield will bat from the left side with Steven Souza Jr. being the lone exception.
Additionally, in the last couple weeks the Rays have traded Mikie Mahtook and released Jason Coats due to a discovered torn UCL. Now the next man up in the outfield would be prospect Johnny Field.
To start the season, the Rays need a better option.
Franklin Gutierrez has been one of the best bats in all of Major League Baseball against LHP as he’s hit .293/.368/.548 and put up a 151 wRC+ over 329 plate appearances the last two seasons. That ranks eleventh in all of baseball during that time period with at least 300 plate appearances.
“Guti” missed the 2014 seasons after being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an arthritic condition. He seems to accept his limitations and role that he will need to play as he hangs on to his baseball career. The bad news is he’s a player who has very limited usefulness, but he’s really useful in doing that one thing. It just so happens that’s what the Rays need right now.
Gutierrez is not the same quality of player as Chris Carter or Mike Napoli in that he will be exposed against right handed pitchers, and most likely can’t take on a larger playing time role, but he could be the more important fit to the current Rays roster, which could use his veteran presence and complementary platoon bat.
Last year he signed a $1.5MM contract with the Seattle Mariners that included $4.25MM of incentives. He earned $1MM of those incentives. The Rays can match that, and should make it a priority to sign the player they need, especially when it falls within their price range.
Overall the Rays defense looks to be greatly improved and the offense should be quite good against right handed pitching, but not against southpaw. The opportunity is there to plug your biggest offensive hole, so the Rays should make signing Franklin Gutierrez their top priority.