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Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview 2020: Jose Martinez can mash

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His skill set seems perfect for the American League

MLB: FEB 17 Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Is Jose Martinez a Ray yet?

The question was posed throughout the 2018-2019 offseason when it seemed evident that the Tampa Bay Rays were interested in the slugger and just a matter of time until they eventually acquired him.

Martinez was a highly sought after hitter during the winter after coming off consecutive seasons with a wRC+ north of 127. During the 2018 campaign, Martinez hit .305/.364/.457 with 17 HR over 590 plate appearances. However, as good an offensive player as Martinez was/is, his defensive capabilities leave plenty to be desired, which led many to believe he’d thrive with an American League team.

The offseason came and went, and it was a shock to some that Martinez had stayed with St Louis. The Cardinals held on to Martinez, still with the hope of making his passable in the field and keeping his potent bat in the lineup, but Martinez would take a big step back in 2019.

Injuries plagued him all season long and he became more prone to strikeouts, while his power took a dip, thanks do a nagging shoulder issue. Overall, Martinez hit .269/.340/.410 and registered a respectable 101 wRC+ over 373 plate appearances. However, Martinez also finished the year with -9 Defensive Runs Saved, putting him among the worst defensive players in all of baseball.

Martinez had now become a liability for the Cardinals so when the Tampa Bay Rays came calling once again this winter and were willing to offer one of the premier pitching prospects in the game, St Louis was quick to make a deal.

And thus, the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Jose Martinez, along with Randy Arozarena and a draft pick for Matthew Liberatore, Eduardo Rodriguez, and a different draft pick.

Despite his defensive shortcomings, the Rays will do all they can to get Jose Martinez’s bat into the starting lineup on most every given night, that is just how good he can be at the plate. During the 2018 season, Martinez was among the top echelon of the game in terms of xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA. With his nagging injuries in 2019, those numbers all took a dip, but he was still better than most of the league in those categories.

Where Martinez really thrives is against southpaws; he has a career mark of 160 wRC+ against them over his 3+ years in the major leagues. Even with his disappointing 2019 season, Martinez still hit .329/.397/.600 against lefties with 5 HR over 78 plate appearances.

Martinez’s role on the team is clearly defined. He likely could have left his glove in St Louis and just taken his bats to Tampa Bay as he’ll be in the team’s designated hitter against left-handed pitchers. But the Rays value versatility and no doubt there will be situations in which they’ll still throw him out all over the field to see if he can at least give the team passable defense.

The Rays were busy this offseason, sending Tommy Pham to the Padres for Hunter Renfroe and signing Japanese slugger, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. They acquired outfielder Manuel Margot from the Padres to shore up outfield defense. But the acquisition of Jose Martinez may well prove to be their most impactful move, improving their offense against the league’s prominent left-handed starters.

As spring training games get set to begin, watch for the Rays to employ Jose Martinez all around the field to gauge his value as a defender, but look for him to make the Tampa Bay Rays Opening Day roster as part of a platoon as the DH.