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Tampa Bay Rays trade target: DH Kennys Vargas

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A switch hitting power bat is on waivers. Are the Rays interested?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

According to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, the Minnesota Twins were unable to find a trade for designated hitter Kennys Vargas. As he had previously been designated for assignment, he will now be available to all 29 teams to be claimed off waivers.

The 27-year-old switch hitter in not much of a defender at first base, but boasts 35 home runs in his 859 total MLB plate appearances over the past four seasons, with the floor of league average offense and a ceiling of something more.

In 2016, Vargas held a 119 wRC+ in a part-time role, with a 13.6% walk rate and 32% strikeout rate. Both of those numbers should be lower with more robust sample sizes, but his profile it typical of other sluggers.

The Rays have been in the market for a right-handed hitting outfielder this offseason, and have yet to find one. Acquiring Vargas does not fill the platoon outfield void, but even if the Rays had an outfield compliment for the outfield, I’m not convinced we still wouldn’t see the likes of Denard Span and Carlos Gomez hitting every day. So if those veterans can defend on a regular basis, at least in the early running of the season, DH remains a spot to be taken.

Vargas is a switch hitter and has a bat that projects as likely the fourth best offense on the team vRHP, and the best bat on the team vLHP. It’d be hard to keep him out of the lineup if he were on the Rays roster.

For that reason, though, the Rays may not be interested. The team is intent on playing Brad Miller vRHP and do not want to take at-bats away from the kids as they are promoted later in the season. On the other hand, maybe Vargas is worth the David-Ortiz-Resurrection he’s been projected to have coming for two years now.

If the Rays were at all interested in being competitive on offense, though, this is a fun gamble. Because if you’re gonna pitch to Vargas, you best not miss.

Here’s him feasting on a meatball:

On a pitch down:

On a pitch inside:

And here’s what he looks like from the right side, where he’d feature more often for the Rays:

It’s astounding players like this are free now.

Vargas is a massive man, bigger than teammate Miguel Sano, but consequently doesn’t have much speed, making him more of a liability in close plays on the base paths.

His spring performance was not enough to keep the Twins from signing Logan Morrison, so you have to think he’ll perform at a level below LoMo, who Rays fans know. What Vargas needs to prove otherwise is consistent playing time. I’m not convinced he could find that in Tampa Bay. Is this worth a Rays waiver claim? Only to claim and designate a second time, it seems.

Any acquiring team would need to see what he could do with consistent major league playing time. For the Rays, that would mean starting Vargas at DH on the regular, pushing out one of Brad Miller or C.J. Cron against righties. The counter argument is perhaps Vargas can prove himself without consistent playing time. After all, he may be improving on offense, thanks to the introduction of contacts this off-season, but does he check enough boxes for the Rays to be worth it?

Who knows what happens with Vargas, maybes a change of scenery and coaches are just what he needs, but the Rays have a bullpen day to manage and prospects to promote. His roster spot is too valuable to be wasted on the short side of a DH platoon. It would be unfair to the player and disruptive to the Rays plans.

The Twins moved on from Vargas when they acquired their own outfield bench player via trade, which the Rays still need to do. Vargas is fun, but the Rays have a rebuild to complete, and some veteran outfielders they want to give breaks from the turf. It’s unlikely the Rays put offensive production in 2018 ahead of those priorities.