The Rays acquired Christian Bethancourt from the Athletics on Saturday.

The 2022 trade season is upon us. Prior to the start of Saturday’s contest in Cincinnati, the Tampa Bay Rays acquired UTL/Catcher Christian Bethancourt from Oakland for Minor League farmhands outfielder Cal Stevenson and right-hander Christian Fernandez. The acquisition immediately proved fortuitous, as Wander Franco (right hamate bone injury), Kevin Kiermaier (left hip discomfort), and Jeffrey Springs (right lower leg tightness) were placed on the 10 and 15-day Injured List (respectively) following yesterday’s contest. Right-hander Calvin Faucher was also optioned to Triple-A Durham following a blown save opportunity Saturday afternoon.

To take over those four spots on the roster, Tampa Bay has recalled OF Luke Raley, INF Jonathan Aranda, left-hander Josh Fleming, and right-hander Phoenix Sanders.

Christian Bethancourt

Bethancourt, 30, made it back to the big leagues for the first time since 2017. He began his career with Atlanta (who eventually traded him to San Diego) in 2013. The UTL/Catcher played with the Padres from 2016-2017, and up to that point he owned a .222 BA/.252 OBP/.316 OPS/.568 OPS line across 489 plate appearances. Yet, following his stint in San Diego, Bethancourt had been stuck at Triple-A with the Brewers in 2018 and the Pirates in 2021.

He burst back onto the scene for an Athletics’ club that’s been a former shadow of itself. On the season, the right-handed hitting Bethancourt has slashed .249 BA/.298 OBP/.385 SLG/.683 OPS across 182 plate appearances, with a 99 wRC+. In that time, Bethancourt has spent time behind the plate, at first base, and as the designated hitter.

Interestingly enough, Bethancourt has not fully realized his power potential so far this season, due in part to a below-average contact rate. But, when he makes contact the ball goes far. In fact, his barrel rate, maxium exit velocity, and average exit velocity are all within the 90th percentile or above. What’s more, he fares very well in every Statcast-expected statistic, meaning that while he also has been largely unlucky, the utility player is fully capable of crushing the ball.

And while his power has been somewhat overshadowed by below-average walk and chase rates on the season, his wRC+ is more than three times that of Rene Pinto — whom he could take the place of — as well as Francisco Mejia.

In Bethancourt, the Rays are getting a versatile player that will see time behind the plate, at first base, in the DH role, and possibly in left field. Put in a dfferent context, Bethancourt can be viewed as a working-man’s Wilson Contreras, whom the Rays are still potentially in on.

Wander Franco

Franco left Saturday’s contest after his first plate appearance that resulted in a caught-looking punchout on a pitch that he, more often than not, would have attempted to foul off because it was close to the zone. Yet, preceding that pitch, Franco looked shaken up after fouling off a Hunter Greene fastball. He is expected to visit a hand specialist on Monday when the Rays return home from their current road trip. Even Franco is able to avoid surgery, hamate bone injuries typically require 4-6 weeks of recovery time.

Franco already missed four weeks due to a quad strain and wasn’t particularly productive leading up to that last IL stint as he was trying to play through the injury.  Since returning from the IL, Franco was in the midst of a 10-game hit streak, although he logged just a .634 OPS over 56 plate appearances (across 13 games) since being activated.

Jonathan Aranda, who made his MLB debut earlier in the season, appearing in two games, will likely step into Taylor Walls’ utility infield role, while Walls will probably resume everyday shortstop duty (as he did during Franco’s previous IL stint).

Kevin Kiermaier

Kevin Kiermaier played most of Saturday’s contest, but was replaced for a pinch-runner after hitting a base hit in the ninth inning. During the game, Kiermaier experienced more discomfort in his left hip — the same issue that forced the centerfielder to the IL in late June, although he missed only 10 days before being activated.

Given the recurring issue, it seems likely that Kiermaier will miss more time on the IL this go-around, although the upcoming All-Star break could cover four days of this stint.  Unless Tampa Bay wants to monitor Kiermaier to ensure the hip soreness is entirely behind him, he could be activated as early as July 22, when the Rays kick off the second half of their schedule in Kansas City.

Brett Phillips and Josh Lowe are the likeliest candidates to handle centerfield while Kiermaier is out. But, while Phillips is a good gloveman, there’s not a way to easily replace Kiermaier’s defense. Beyond that, Luke Raley is a left-handed hitting outfielder, so in that sense, he’s an easy replacement in the Rays’ batting order.

Jeffrey Springs

Jeffrey Springs was placed on the 15-day Injured List, retroactive to July 7. Springs presumably picked up the injury during his start last on Tuesday in Boston, and he’ll move to the IL rather than make his next turn through the rotation tomorrow. The left-hander will be eligible to return immediately after the All-Star break, on July 22, although it isn’t clear whether he will be healthy by that time. In the interim, Josh Fleming appears likely to fill Springs’ spot in the rotation.