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Avisail Garcia is a perfect hedge for 2019

Whether he shares right field with Austin Meadows, earns more playing time, or falls apart, Avisail Garcia is the right bet for the Rays in 2019.

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Philadelphia Phillies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays spent the off-season looking to add a right handed bat to the lineup. While they were very closely involved with Nelson Cruz and even J.T. Realmuto to an extent, the Rays ended up signing enigmatic outfielder Avisail Garcia to a 1 year deal worth $3M with a possible $2.5M via incentives, which is a very Rays move to make.

Garcia should play a significant role against LHP and could find himself some AB’s against RHP as well as he battles for playing time in right field against newcomer Austin Meadows.

Set Avisail

On the surface, the signing looks relatively underwhelming. Coming off a 0-WAR season in 2018 that represented a sharp dive from his BABIP-boosted 4-WAR, .330/.380/.506 campaign in 2017, Garcia still gives you some reason for excitement.

While injured last year, Garcia still managed to pop 19 homers in 93 games, but with a healthy knee should have his power back in full... although perhaps it never left him.

Impressively, Garcia was able to maintain practically the same exit velocity he held in 2016 and 2017 last season - right above 90 mph. His launch angle has increased by 2° since 2016 and it sat at 7.5° in his All-Star season in ‘17. Last year’s angle was nearly at 10°, but that might’ve been Garcia trying to compensate for his knee issue.

Garcia is also oddly quick for a guy his size. He can cover roughly 29 ft/s which is above average (27 fp/s). While he isn’t an elite defender, he adds to the list of rangy Rays outfielders.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Southpaw Wind Advisory

Garcia crushes LHP, as evidenced by his career 121 wRC+ and .348 wOBA and the fact that, well, the Rays signed him mainly for that reason. What’s interesting is that Garcia rode on the coattails of a very inflated BABIP through the ‘18 season, and most of that actually came against LHP. He came in with a very high 178 wRC+ aided by a .509 BABIP.

By contrast, his numbers against RHP that year were actually quite normal, with a .298/.355/.482 line aided by a BABIP that wasn’t extremely high (.349), and a wRC+ well above league average (124). So he handled same handed pitching very well that year, and should those numbers transition in 2019 with the opportunities he might, this could look even better for the Rays.

But what can we tell what really happened to Garcia in 2018? A combination of knee and hamstring issues limited him to 93 games, down from 148 in 2017.

While managing to stay afloat during the games he played in the first half with a .351 wOBA, Garcia cratered in the second half of the season to the tune of a .275 wOBA and 72 wRC+.

If there were any positives from that second half is that his walk rate went from 1.4%, yes, 1.4% to 7.6%.

Breaking down his Exit Velocity month-by-month, Garcia fell hard in the final months of the season as his injury continued to wear him down.

As I mentioned above, the ability to platoon and take days off when Meadows matches up better (which should be most nights), Garcia should be able to maintain some semblance of durability. ZiPS projects Garcia to play around 120 games and take roughly 500 AB’s in ‘19, so let’s ignore that, Steamer pops Garcia at 75 games and a 101 wRC+ over the course of around 320 AB’s. Steamer also pegs him at 0.3 WAR, and if you consider the cost for 1 WAR today at $10M, the $3M the Rays are paying actually falls right in line with the projection.

Safe Harbor

Ultimately, the Rays know exactly what they’re getting with Avisail Garcia, and while there’s hope that they can untap what the Tigers and White Sox couldn’t, there should be a reasonable exception of at least league average production at a cheap rate.

Should Austin Meadows falter, Garcia could find himself with an expanded role and that had to part of the reasoning he was brought aboard as well. Should Garcia’s 2018 faults carry over, he could find himself out of a job very soon at a very low cost.

This signing was a hedge more than anything else, and a very Rays-type bargain bin signing that could reap significant rewards without impacting the bottom line.