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Rays Free Agent Target: Steven Souza Jr.

The player wants to return, but do the Rays want a reunion?

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for a right handed bat to bring some balance to the force lineup.

Currently there would be five left handed bats in the lineup most days via Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe, Ji-Man Choi, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, and Kevin Kiermaier, and with Joey Wendle and Michael Perez picking up playing time in a part time role.

This wouldn’t be all that different from how they entered last season with the addition of Tsutsugo. Perez ended up losing playing time after the injury and acquisition of Travis d’Arnaud and Lowe missing most of the second half of the season.

Nevertheless, this is the place the Rays should be looking to make additions on the margins. Getting somebody that can — at minimum — platoon with some of these left handed bats should help maximize the possible production of the lineup.

As the Rays have looked one possible option has reported to be Steven Souza Jr and the interest appears to be mutual.

Souza’s final year with the Rays (2017) was quite good. In the best year of his career he put up 3.8 fWAR while hitting .239/.351/.459 and putting up a 121 wRC+. He hit 30 homers and was healthy enough to get 600 plate appearances for the first time in his career.

The 2017 season is the only time Souza has posted a wRC+ 100 or above, and pushes his career total to above average (103). With endless potential and boundless injury risk, Souza hasn’t been a great player, but for the most part he has been a solid role player.

Since being traded the Arizona Diamondbacks the injuries have only escalated. In 2018 he was limited to 272 plate appearances due to a strained right pectoral muscle. Then things got much worse last year when he tore multiple ligaments in his knee after his foot slipped across home plate during a Spring Training game, causing him to miss the 2019 season.

Souza will be 31 early next year and it would be foolish to expect him to be healthier going forward than he has been in the past, but a smaller role could help keep him available.

As far as his fit for the Rays, Souza has shown a pretty minor platoon split for his career. He has hit .243/.338/.418 and put up a 108 wRC+ vs left handed pitchers while hitting .229/.317/.417 and putting up a 101 wRC+ vs right handed pitchers.

This might not be the ideal production split for what this roster needs, but adding another player that you wouldn’t mind seeing more playing time when an injury to an outfielder inevitably occurs wouldn’t be a bad option.

Right now, if one of the potential outfielders (Meadows, Kiermaier, Hunter Renfroe, and Tsutsugo) go down, the next option is likely another left handed hitting outfielder in Brian O’Grady.

Steamer projections are fairly optimistic about Souza’s ability to bounce back after a gruesome injury, giving him a .243/.331/.450 slash, which projects as a 104 wRC+ over 527 plate appearances.

The biggest question is whether he is healthy. If so, he’s likely a reasonable option for most any team, including the Rays. Souza isn’t as good as the top options in the free agent market like Marcell Ozuna, Nicholas Castellanos, and Yasiel Puig, but limited playing time will make it more difficult to bring in one of the bigger options even if they fall into the Rays price range.

Souza shouldn’t be the big right handed bat the Rays would like to land, but he would help improve the outfield depth overall.