ORLANDO — In Kevin Cash’s press conference on Monday, a reporter asked the Rays manager what he saw going forward as an advantage.
Here was his response:
I think that speed is a big part of the game and I think power is kind of what everybody is paying for [...] Speed doesn’t really go away.
Cash also spoke very highly of Mallex Smith, saying that he “ignited us” and was looking forward to “taking of the reigns”. The same reporter followed up his question with asking Kevin Cash: “Is there room to have two speed guys in the outfield right now, or is the game too power oriented?”
Here is where things get interesting:
No I think there’s definitely room. We’ve discussed this offseason about doing everything we can to catch the baseball. We want to put the best defense out there. You look at obviously KK, Steven Souza. Elite defenders. And last year we had Peter Bourjos who we consider elite, and then Mallex is in that same fold of speed. We want as much speed as possible.
All signs are pointing to speed in the outfield and even some parts of the infield. Smith, Kiermaier, Souza, Dickerson (after he shed some pounds) are speed oriented outfielders. Newly acquired Joey Wendle stole 13 bases in Triple-A last year, Adames stole 11. Matt Duffy stole 12 in 2015 and didn’t get caught once.
It’s not about stealing bases, although there is a definite upside. It’s mainly about preventing runs and getting outs.
All three regular outfielders had four or five star catches in 2017 according to statcast. When you look at Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) Kiermaier was worth 22 DRS in a season shortened by injury, Souza is worth 7 DRS, Mallex Smith is at 2 DRS, and Dickerson was worth -1 DRS. Average is considered 0.
There is an advantage to having speed in the outfield. We just saw this with the Mariners’ recent aquisition of Dee Gordon, who Seattle plans on playing in centerfield. A position he has never played before in his life.
Who is Available?
Speed is something the Rays have targeted in the past and one they could continue to target in the future. Looking at the list of DRS leaders on Fangraphs, there are a lot of players who are highly unlikely to be traded by their teams or at least unlikely to be traded to the Rays including Mookie Betts, Byron Buxton, and Yasiel Puig. There are a couple of names available the Rays could target, however.
Billy Hamilton, OF — The Cincinnati Reds outfielder is reportedly being shopped by his team, mostly to make room for their up and coming prospects.
Last year Hamilton did post a “down” year in 2017 at 9 DRS but still remains an elite defender and was still worth 1.2 fWAR while posting a 66 wRC+. Hamilton has actually never been worth league average with his bat, his highest at 79 wRC+ in 2016, but still was worth 3.1 fWAR, which tells you how much value his defense brings.
A change of scenery could bode well for Hamilton, and if the Reds are selling low on Hamilton, the Rays could acquire him for a low cost.
Marcell Ozuna, OF — Ozuna is the next guy on Jeter’s block after Giancarlo Stanton, and the Marlins are definitely trying to ship him out. He had 11 DRS in 2017 and posted a .312/.376/.548 good for 142 wRC+. A right-handed hitting outfielder with great speed and great defense? Sounds good to me!
#Marlins pushing Ozuna, telling teams he will be easier to acquire (lower acquisition cost) than Yelich. Two years of control for Ozuna, five for Yelich.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 12, 2017
With the Marlins making it known that Ozuna is available, many teams have been asking about Ozuna, which could drive the cost to aquire past the Rays’ comfort zone. He also is projected to make $10.8 million in his second round of arbitration, which is well outside the Rays’ price range.
Mitch Moreland, 1B — Trade isn’t the only option. Rays could go out and sign a guy like Moreland, who was with Boston last year at a reasonable $5.5 Million. He posted a 10 DRS last year while slashing a decent .246/.326/.443 good for 98 wRC+. If the market is continually slow to develop, and if the injury concerns worry other teams, the Rays could swoop in and get Moreland at a discount. Moreland is defensively better than Lucas Duda, who posted his worst defense at 1B at -1 DRS.
Rajai Davis, OF — We’ve written about Mr Davis and his speed before. Not much has changed since then. Davis stole 26 bags in 35 attempts in 2017 between the Athletics and Red Sox. Although Davis posted a -1 DRS in 2017, was actually an improvement over 2016, in which he posted a -8 DRS with the Indians. Rays would be bringing Davis in purely for his speed and defense. Last year Davis slashed a .235/.293/.348, good for a 72 wRC+. Davis might be cheaper to acquire than a Billy Hamilton, he was signed to a 1-year $7 million deal last year, and could be had for cheaper this year, but at 37, his age is still a concern.
There are a lot of other options available including Michael Taylor, Stephen Piscotty, Josh Harrison to name a few.
While the Yankees — and probably Red Sox — make big moves to boost power and offense, the Rays need to find other ways to be competitive. Speed is by far cheaper than power, and with plenty of options available there should be no shortage available to the Rays. The only question is, do the Rays continue to add speed? Or look for other ways to improve the club?