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Rays Right-Handed Hitter Targets

The Rays need a right-handed bat. Who might be available?

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As things stand today, the Rays only have five right-handed hitters on their 40-man roster. By my count, that is the fewest number of right-handed bats on any the 30 MLB rosters. The five Rays righties are Randy Arozarena, Yandy Diaz, Manuel Margot, Mike Zunino, and René Pinto.

While the quality of that group of players is not poor by any means, it’s the quantity that is lacking. The Rays dealt Mike Brosseau and Jordan Luplow in small trades this off-season in order to clear roster space, further depleting their right-handed depth. Also, when you add in the fact that Nelson Cruz is a free agent and is uncertain to return, it’s not hard to see why right-handed hitting is a need for the 2022 Rays.

To be fair, the Rays current roster does contain 4 switch-hitters in Wander Franco, Taylor Walls, Francisco Mejía, and Vidal Bruján. However, given the nature of how the Rays have loved to platoon hitters in recent seasons, it’s reasonable to expect another right-handed bat to be added to the team’s offensive mix.

Additionally, Rays President of Baseball Operations Erik Neander publicly stated earlier this month that the team is looking to add a right-handed bat to their position player group. Here’s a quote from an article by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:

The Rays don’t typically share their shopping list, using their creativity and the versatility of their players to be nimble and reactive to market opportunities. So it was interesting that Neander talked openly about their interest in adding “a right-handed-hitting/bat-first type of player,” with the qualifier “whether it’s someone accomplished or whether it’s someone we think can continue to grow with the group that we have.” They should have plenty of options either way.

Let’s take a look at twenty different players who might be available to fill this void, broken down into four distinct categories:

Free Agents

The Rays are not usually big players in free agency, however they have shopped in this market for hitters before. Avisaíl García in 2019 and Carlos Gomez in 2018 are two fairly recent examples of right-handed hitters scooped up by the Rays on the open market. Here’s a list of who’s available this winter:

Nelson Cruz

The 41 year-old showed some signs of decline at the end of last season, which leaves question marks surrounding just how much left there is in the tank. He did manage to end the 2021 season with a 152 wRC+ against lefties though and provided a stable veteran presence to a young Rays team. There still should be a robust market for him this winter and especially so if the NL adopts the DH.

Andrew McCutchen

There is an argument that Andrew McCutchen has the largest platoon splits of any hitter in baseball at the moment. In 2021 his 76 wRC+ against righties ranked 5th worst amongst qualified hitters yet his 168 wRC+ against lefties ranked 4th best. Mashing lefties is basically the only tool left in his profile at this point in his career, but if deployed properly McCutchen should still be able to provide value to a contending team.

Tommy Pham

Pham made a strong impression on Tampa Bay fans as he hit .287/.385/.485 (138 wRC+) over 184 games in a Rays uniform. He also owns a career 135 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. His great production took a dip after the Rays traded him away, but would they consider a reunion with the 33 year-old on a cheap deal?

Jorge Soler

Soler displayed his power skillset in a big way with the 2021 World Series Champion Atlanta Braves. He has always hit lefties well, he posted a 126 wRC+ against them this year and has a 119 wRC+ against them for his career. He would likely be just a DH option for Tampa Bay, as his outfield defense is not well regarded.

Seiya Suzuki

Suzuki will cost the most total dollars of anyone on this list, as many MLB teams are interested in the 27 year-old slugger. He’s had great hitting success overseas and also plays strong outfield defense in all three spots. The Rays had reported interest in Suzuki earlier this offseason.

United States v Japan - Baseball - Olympics: Day 10
Seiya Suzuki
Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

Trade Targets - Popular Candidates

Below you will find a list of players whose names have been in the trade rumor mill recently. It is hard to know if all of these players truly are available, but it’s probably worth the Rays’ while to at least check in.

Garrett Cooper - Marlins

The Marlins have been looking to shore up their offense this winter, so trading Cooper may not be something they’re willing to do right now. However, they did just tender a contract to Jesus Aguilar and signed Avisaíl García, which could make a different corner bat like Cooper expendable. Cooper owns a 133 wRC+ over the past two seasons combined and the Marlins have discussed him in trade talks before.

Matt Chapman - Athletics

Chapman will not come cheap, as he’s generally regarded as one of the best defenders in baseball to go along with his solid bat. His hitting production took a step backwards last year, but his career 120 wRC+ is a strong figure. There has been reporting around the industry that the A’s will trade a few big name players before the season starts.

J.D. Davis - Mets

Davis owns an excellent 130 wRC+ over the past 3 years combined, although he has had recent injury history. After the Eduardo Escobar signing, the path for Davis’ playing time has become murky. The Mets have made Davis available in trades before, and figure to continue doing so this winter.

Trey Mancini - Orioles

With only one year of team control remaining, the Orioles have to make the tough decision on whether or not to trade Mancini. He’s posted a 117 wRC+ against southpaws for his career including a 140 wRC+ against them last year. Even though the Rays and Orioles are in the same division, they have linked up on trades before.

Carlos Santana - Royals

Santana is a switch-hitter but I am including him because he’s hit lefties better than righties over the course of his career. The 35 year-old has seen his production fall off lately, but he still owns a 126 wRC+ against lefties over the past 3 seasons combined. He’s owed $10.5M next year so the Rays would likely need to clear out money elsewhere to fit him in.

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals
Carlos Santana
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Trade Targets - Sleepers

The players on this list aren’t as well known and/or as accomplished as the guys listed above. It is unclear if the Rays will be shopping in this market, because they just traded away two players of this ilk in Mike Brosseau and Jordan Luplow, but these hitters are worth mentioning because of the reasons listed in the intro.

Wilmer Flores - Giants

Flores played a key role for the great 2021 Giants, but he is on the last year of his deal and San Francisco is looking for potential infield upgrades (they were in on Chris Taylor and Marcus Semien). Maybe they will make the 30 year-old Flores available in trade, perhaps for pitching help. He owns a career 119 wRC+ against left-handed pitching.

Connor Joe - Rockies

The 29 year-old has been a long time journey-man and finally got an extended shot with Colorado in 2021. His strong season included above average strikeout, walk, and power figures which all added up to a 116 wRC+, including a 134 wRC+ against lefties. Joe mainly plays first base and corner outfield.

Chad Pinder - Athletics

Pinder has the most experience of the guys in this grouping and also has great versatility in the field. He has a career 116 wRC+ against lefties and hit even better than that against them in 2021. The 29 year-old has always been a sneaky good power hitter and posted the 12th best barrel rate in baseball last season.

Brent Rooker - Twins

Strikeouts held Rooker back during his first big league stint, but he has long performed in the minors posting a career .874 OPS down there. Rooker plays corner outfield and possesses some big power but probably needs to make a bit more contact to succeed in MLB.

Taylor Ward - Angels

Ward does a lot of things well, he takes his walks, hits for some power, controls his strikeouts, and has good defensive versatility. He also posted a 137 wRC+ against lefties in 2021. With the Angels always on the hunt for pitching, the Rays could be a decent trade partner here.

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners
Taylor Ward
Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Trade Targets - Post Hype Prospects

This final group may be the most fascinating of all, as it contains players who were highly thought of as prospects but have since lost value due to underperformance and/or injury history. Each of these player’s current teams have to answer the tough question: “Do we keep this player and try to fix him or do we trade him for other needs while he still has value?”

Jo Adell - Angels

Adell’s first 73 big-league games have not been pretty, but he did take some steps forward in 2021. He cut down on the strikeouts in his MLB at-bats and posted an impressive 1.074 OPS against lefties in AAA this year. Per FanGraphs, Adell was ranked as the 4th best prospect in baseball at the start of 2020. Would the Angels consider moving him for more established players to help them compete in 2022?

Alec Bohm - Phillies

Bohm’s MLB career started off on a great note after finishing second in the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year voting. This year was not as kind to him, as he struggled to get his footing and was even demoted to AAA in late August. Despite his 2021 struggles, he still managed to put up a 114 wRC+ against lefties. It is unknown if the Phillies would truly consider selling low on Bohm, but it has been reported that the Rays and Phillies have been discussing trades this winter.

Carter Kieboom - Nationals

Kieboom was a first round pick in 2016 and has ranked in the top 25 on prospect lists before. The bat has yet to arrive in the big leagues for him, but he has a career 129 wRC+ in the minors despite always being young for the levels he’s played at. He just turned 24 and has mostly played third base for Washington.

Keston Hiura - Brewers

The early stages of Hiura’s career are pretty similar to those of Bohm’s. He was great in his rookie season but has struggled mightily since, mostly due to strikeout issues. However, Hiura has a fantastic minor league track record (including a 127 wRC+ in AAA this year) and was ranked as the 13th best prospect in baseball on the 2019 FanGraphs Board.

Nick Senzel - Reds

The 2016 2nd overall pick has dealt with numerous injuries over his career so far and has yet to show what he’s capable of. Senzel hit .311/.385/.505 (157 wRC+) in his minor league career but the results have yet to arrive in the big leagues. According to MLB pipeline, he was ranked as the 7th best prospect in baseball in 2018. Will he ever develop into a major league regular?

Cincinnati Reds v Cleveland Indians
Nick Senzel
Photo by: 2021 George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Final Thoughts

If the Rays were slated to face a lefty with the roster they have today, the lineup would look something like this:

  1. Randy Arozarena LF
  2. Wander Franco SS
  3. Brandon Lowe 2B
  4. Yandy Diaz 1B
  5. Manuel Margot RF
  6. Austin Meadows DH
  7. Mike Zunino C
  8. Taylor Walls 3B
  9. Kevin Kiermaier CF

Don’t get me wrong, this lineup can still win a lot of games. However, if any injuries and/or underperformers arise during the season there aren’t many depth options on the roster who can handle left-handed pitching well. The remaining hitters on the 40-man are Choi, Phillips, Mejia, Brujan, J. Lowe, Aranda, Proctor, and Pinto. The vast majority of those hitters fare much better against righties than lefties.

This is essentially why I think the Rays are likely to try to squeeze in another right-handed bat on the team even though roster space is tight at the moment. It’s also why I was a bit surprised when they traded Jordan Luplow earlier this winter, as he seemed like a solid option to fill this need.

Given all of this information, would you try to bring in another right-handed bat? And if so, who would you target?

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