The Tampa Bay Rays dipped into the offseason free-agent market on Monday, reportedly coming to terms with outfielder Avisail Garcia on a one-year, $3.5-million deal. The deal is pending a physical and includes an addition $2.5-million in incentives.
The Rays have been in the market for a right-handed bat to pair with DH/1B Ji-Man Choi and Garcia fits that description to a large extent. The outfielder was plagued with knee and hamstring issues last season, limiting him to just 93 games in which he slashed a disappointing .236 BA/.281 OBP/.438 SLG/.719 OPS line over 385 plate appearances, with a -4 DRS in the outfield, leading to a modest 0.3 fWAR in spite of his power profile. In 2017, however, Garcia enjoyed a breakout campaign, performing to a .330 BA/.380 OBP/.506 SLG/.886 OPS line across 561 plate appearances, with 18 home runs, 80 RBI and a 4.6 fWAR.
Aside from the fact that Garcia is a low-risk, low-cost player, it is difficult to know what to make of him. He was clearly the recipient of the good luck dragons in 2017, posting a .392 BABIP which was an anomaly when compared to his career numbers. As Steve Adams (MLB Trade Rumors) writes, Garcia largely defied the odds.
Garcia struck out at a career-low 19.8 percent clip that season, but he also hit the ball on the ground at a 52.2 percent clip — hardly a trend that is conducive to success for a plodding player who is listed at 6’4″ and 240 pounds.
True to projections, Garcia regressed in 2018, although there are some silver linings, which Adams also noted.
Garcia hit the ball in the air at a career-high 34.4 percent rate, resulting in a clear power surge. Despite having just 385 PAs last season, he clubbed a career-high 19 home runs, and his .202 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) was easily a career-high mark as well. Moreover, Garcia’s hard-hit rate jumped from 40.7 percent in 2017 to 43.2 percent in 2018, per Statcast. At the same time, though, Garcia also punched out in a career-worst 26.5 percent of his plate appearances.
The Rays have a crowded outfield chock full of strong defenders like Tommy Pham, Kevin Kiermaier and Austin Meadows who are slated to receive the bulk of the regular work. This suggests that Garcia will likely see more time at DH and play in the outfield corners only sparingly.
If Garcia can cut back on his strikeouts, while maintaining his hard-contact and fly-ball gains, he could prove to be a cheap source of power next season.
— In a tweet, Saturday Ken Rosenthal (The Athletic) noted Tampa Bay’s interest in free-agent corner infielder Matt Davidson as a potential two-way player.
The ever-creative #Rays are looking at free agent Matt Davidson as a potential two-way addition, sources say. Brendan McKay, the team’s No. 2 prospect per @MLBPipeline and fourth overall pick in 2017 draft, reached High A last season as a first baseman and left-handed pitcher.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 13, 2019
Davidson is most known for his offensive prowess. The former top-100 prospect combined for 46 homers with the ChiSox between 2017 and 2018, during which he slashed .224 BA/.291 OBP/.345 SLG/.636 OPS/94 wRC+ across 939 plate appearances. He did fare better last season, posting a 104 wRC+ across 496 PAs and walking a career-high 10.5% (up from 4.3% the season previous), with a .228 BA/.319 OBP/.419 SLG/.738 OPS/.321 wOBA/104 wRC+.
More interestingly though, Davidson factored into Chicago’s bullpen, tossing 3-1/3 innings of one-hit ball in three appearances from June through August.
2018 PitchingNinja Award for Position Player Pitcher of the Year. 🏆
Matt Davidson pic.twitter.com/Moj67B2NFP
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) December 14, 2018
Davidson has reportedly worked to become a better option on out of the ‘pen since the end of the season, and the White Sox liked what they saw out of the right-hander’s 92 mph fastball. He also displayed a nasty breaking ball, which he used to strike out Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton (seen above). Even so, Chicago chose not to tender Davidson’s projected $2.4-million contract via arbitration.
Davidson’s likely purpose would be to platoon first base with Ji-Man Choi, the projected starter at the position. The left-handed Choi logged tremendous production last season in 221 plate appearances, slashing .280 BA/.372 OBP/.536 SLG/.908 OPS/146 wRC+ with nine homers, 22 runs, 23 RBI and a .256 ISO. Yet Choi played sparingly left-handed pitchers, while Davidson destroyed southpaws, suggesting a platoon at first.