After the news hit on Monday, that the Tampa Bay Rays had traded infield fixture and former team MVP Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers, for pitching prospect Jose De Leon. The overall consensus among Rays fan was “Why? Why trade an elite Second baseman and clubhouse leader (with 2 years of club control) for a talented but unproven prospect? It also raised questions about the aspirations of the front office to win in 2017.
Undoubtedly, the offseason acquisitions of the Boston Red Sox make them the odds on favorites to win the A.L. East. Are the Rays considering 2017 a wash less than a month away from Spring Training? Or is this there another deal in the works? As far as the trade is concerned, only time will tell. Let’s not forget that Forsythe was once on the opposite side of an unpopular trade. Forsythe was acquired prior to the 2014 from the Padres for left handed reliever Alex Torres. Let’s explore some of the options for second base both within the organization and in free agency.
Option 1: Move Brad Miller or Matt Duffy to 2B and sign a veteran free agent First Baseman/DH
Miller has played second base before with the Rays and Mariners, and the Rays have made it evident that they’re committed to Matt Duffy at Shortstop. Miller committed 14 errors in 105 games with the Rays last year at Shortstop. Miller committed only 3 errors in 3 seasons (37 games) with the Mariners at Second Base. Miller has made it clear that he’d prefer playing Shortstop. Would Miller consider being the Rays everyday Second baseman? Matt Duffy has played Second base on a very limited basis for the Giants (18 games in 2 seasons). If either player were moved to second, the Rays would most likely sign a free agent to play First base.
Here are some likely candidates still remaining:
Mike Napoli’s has been recently linked to the Rays. A year removed from Sleep Apnea surgery. The well rested Napoli posted a career high in both HR’s(34) and games played (150), while posting an OPS of .800 last season for the A.L. Champion Indians. There’s no doubt the Rays lineup would be vastly improved with Napoli’s 30 HR potential in the 5th slot behind Longoria and Miller.
Another interesting free agent option is veteran journeyman slugger Chris Carter. Carter mashed 41 homers last year but struck out a dismal 206 times, leading all Major League hitters. Carter’s power is undeniable but his inability to consistently get on base (career OBP .314) leaves much to be desired. Carter and Souza Jr. in the same lineup could be a nightmare for Rays fans. While the potential of 50+ homers at the bottom of the Rays lineup seems tantalizing, the duo could easily combine for 300 strikeouts. Napoli is overall a better fit both offensively and defensively, signing him to a one year deal would come at at steeper price than it would for Carter, who is also a defensive liability.
Other notable free agent 1B/DH; Brandon Moss, Pedro Alvarez, Billy Butler, Adam Lind, Logan Morrison.
Option 2: Sign veteran Second Baseman to mentor Willy Adames
Adames made great strides last year in AA Montgomery, where he slashed an impressive .274/11/57 with 13 stolen bases and an OPS. of .804 for the Biscuits. Many believe Adames could be ready by the All-Star break. If so, signing a veteran such as Chase Utley to usher in Adames makes sense. Utley is at the twilight of his career and could fetch a fair price. The savvy veteran hit 14 homeruns and posted an OPS of .716 for the Dodgers in 2016. The 38 year old Utley would most likely platoon with Nick Franklin, but would provide invaluable experience and leadership for a relatively young Rays roster.
Other notable free agent 2B: Aaron Hill, Kelley Johnson, Alexei Ramirez.
Option 3: Ride out the season with Nick Franklin and Tim Beckham
Nick Franklin played very well in the second half of ’16. In 60 games Franklin posted an OPS of .771 while playing 6 different positions for the Rays. The Rays are hoping the former first round pick (27th overall in’09) of the Seattle Mariners is a late bloomer and will continue to produce in 2017. Speaking of late bloomers. There’s always Tim Beckham. Beckham’s poor play has made him the goat for many Rays fans. Beckham committed numerous base-running blunders and struggled both offensively and defensively in 2016. With the current lack of depth at middle infield, it’s very likely we will see more Beckham in 2017 in some capacity. Whether he will be able to turn his career around remains to be seen. Adames and Robertson far from ready, so signing a second baseman seems imperative if the Rays are to remain competitive this year in the A.L. East.
Finally and perhaps more importantly. Who will bat lead-off now that Forsythe is gone?
Kevin Kiermeier seems the most obvious choice, but has historically struggled in the leadoff spot. Kiermeier seemed to settle in nicely in the 2 hole last season. If the Rays elect to move Kiermeier back to the leadoff they’ll run the risk of a potential regression. Recently acquired Mallex Smith is a prototype lead-off hitter but along with Adames and Robertson will start the year in Durham. Corey Dickerson is 25 lbs thinner and has always had adequate speed. If Dickerson can show more consistency at the plate and improve his OBP., Dickerson could be a “Dark Horse” candidate.
In Conclusion, the Rays have a lot to figure out these next couple of weeks as they head into Spring Training. I think it’s a safe to assume that the Rays aren’t done making deals yet. whether these moves will come via trade or free agency remains to be seen.