One of the Rays’ main priorities this past off-season was stacking the team with outfield depth in case Kevin Kiermaier were to suffer another injury.
The Rays did this by signing Colby Rasmus on a major league deal and Shane Peterson to a minor league deal. Soon after that, they forced Mallex Smith to become a Seattle Mariner so they could trade Drew Smyly for him. Then, at the end of spring training, they brought in veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos.
The Rays over prepared to make sure they wouldn’t be caught in the same situation as they were in 2016.
As fate would have it, Kevin Kiermaier did get hurt and has already missed a month, and will likely miss at least one more. Shane Peterson has been up and down with the team and has served a solid replacement level player, providing some clutch hits during his short stints. Mallex Smith turned into a catalyst for the Rays offense, but struggles at times on the defensive side of things. Peter Bourjos, well, he’s sort of on the roster and does things every so often.
Colby Rasmus has dealt with lingering hip issues since joining the Rays. He underwent surgery that cost him part of the 2016 season, then joined the Rays with the hopes of a bounceback season. After a month of rehab, he looked well on his way to having that bounce back year, then he hit the DL again due to his hip. Now, the team has announced that Colby Rasmus has stepped away from the team and likely won’t be back.
Although, the Rays haven’t had Rasmus on the active roster for a few weeks, this opens a glaring hole for the Rays roster as the players they had to replace him were just that, replacement level players.
Rasmus served as a boon against right-handed pitching and showcased his Gold Glove caliber defense in the outfield. Shane Peterson has again been solid in spurts, but a prolonged exposure to major league pitching doesn’t spell a predictably good outcome.
The Rays could try and just grind through it, and who knows, Peterson could be that next breakout guy that succeeds despite all the odds, or he could crash down violently to Earth and bring the Rays record with him.
Corey Dickerson has been getting a lot of time in the outfield and could just become the team’s every day left fielder, although his defense can be spotty on throws to the infield, the Rays emphasis on offense could overrule any struggles, and he is net-positive in his 39 games in LF this year, with 2 DRS.
Where could reinforcements come from next?
If the Rays do want to look to their system for outfield help, they only have two position players on the 40-man roster and both of those guys don’t play the outfield: C Curt Casali and SS Willy Adames.
Looking at the Durham Bulls current roster, an intriguing option could be the 21 year old Jake Bauers, the Rays 4th ranked prospect is having a solid year (118 wRC+) for the Bulls splitting time between first base and the outfield. With Colby Rasmus on the restricted list, a spot on the 40-man roster has opened up. Bauers would fit the need for another left handed bat for the Rays to deploy against right handed pitchers.
Other than that, the Durham Bulls roster isn’t exactly loaded with outfielders, as they tend to send career long infielders into the outfield. The only other for sure outfielder on their roster is Johnny Field, who is an exceptional defender and a decent bat, but hits from the right side, which doesn’t fit the need created by Rasmus’s departure.
Digging deeper into the Rays system, the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits have outfielders Justin Williams and Joe McCarthy on their roster, with McCarthy actually being two years older than Bauers.
A 5th round selection in the 2015 draft, McCarthy has hit at each level the Rays have stationed him, splitting time between first base and the outfield. His prospect status isn’t as high as Bauers, so the Rays could jumpstart his service clock early to see what he’d offer in the majors. McCarthy currently has a 148 wRC+ in Double-A.
Finally, with the trade deadline coming, teams will be looking to deal as well and the Rays may be able to find a couple of players to their liking. The Detroit Tigers have the fearsome J.D. Martinez, who although isn’t lefty, can mash against any opponent. He has a career 119 wRC+ vs RHP and 143 wRC+ vs LHP.
The Pittsburgh Pirates also have Andrew McCutchen who could be available through trade as well. We may see the Rays immediately address this in the coming days, or they could hold off a few weeks until the deadline to make a move.