With small-revenue streams, the Tampa Bay Rays are typically role players in free agency. Although they cannot contend for the upper echelon talent, they do have a solid track record on the secondary market. One way the team can supplement their current roster with affordable free-agent talent is through players non-tendered by their current teams. These players tend to be flawed, but as Joel Peralta proved last season, could be useful to another organization. With that in mind, here are some players who could draw interest from Tampa Bay:
The Rays were hot on Scott’s trail at the 2010 trade deadline, but were unable to complete a deal with the Baltimore Orioles. A career .264/.349/.494 hitter, Scott missed significant time in 2011 due to a variety of ailments. The most serious – a torn labrum in his shoulder – ended his season prematurely after just 64 games.
Despite the injury, Scott still displayed good power; his most attractive attribute. When healthy, he is a near lock for 50 extra-base hits and is a notorious fastball killer. He has decent plate discipline with above-average walk rates, but will take the occasional swing on a pitch out of the zone. As a left-handed power bat, he feasts on right-handed pitching (.859 OPS); however, unlike most players with his profile, he is far from useless against southpaws (.791).
Scott is a below-average baserunner and defender. That said, in small doses he can play passible defense at first base and left field. Like Johnny Damon last season, he would give Joe Maddon some flexibility to move players around the diamond if the situation calls for it.
Because of his bat, platoon neutrality, and ability to play multiple positions, Scott is an ideal target for the Rays. He would fill positions of need – most notably first base and designated hitter – and is American League East tested. He made $6.4 million last season and should be in that same range in 2012. Reports out of Baltimore say his recovery from shoulder surgery is ahead of schedule.
On a one-year deal, Scott would be the perfect alternative to Josh Willingham; the one-time Tampa Bay target who has since been priced out of the Rays’ range.
With J.P. Howell sticking around, the Rays have several left-handed arms available for the 2012 pen. In addition to Howell and Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos showed flashes of being a usefu left-handedl bullpen piece last season. That said, left-handed reliever Jose Mijares has been highly-effective against left-handed batters since his 2008 debut.
Working mostly with a fastball/slider combination, the 27-year-old has held lefties to a .212/.276/.331 line. He has allowed just five home runs to 287 left-handed batters. Meanwhile, right-handed batters hit .268/.353/.423 against him.
Despite the drastic platoon splits, Mijares has been used more against right-handers in his career than lefties. He posted a career worst 4.59 ERA last season, but faced a righty 57% of the time. Of the 30 walks he allowed last season, 22 of them came against righties. Given the data available, this was a terrible misuse of his talent, and his numbers suffered because of it.
Mijares did lose some steam on his fastball, but was still in the 89-91 range. Despite losing some effectiveness, his slider was still useful against lefties with a whiff rate above 10%. Unfortunately, the bulk of his pitches thrown were fastballs to right-handed batters which was a recipe for disaster.
Considering Mijares’ strengths, and the way Rays’ manager Joe Maddon uses relievers according to their strengths, a low-risk, one-year deal may be beneficial for both sides.
We’ve covered a 1B/DH type and a relief pitcher. In Micah Owings, the Rays could get both of those in one. A good hitter at the University of Tulane – the alma mater of Rays Executive Vice Preside of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman – Owings has been a slightly below-average pitcher over the first five years of a major-league career.
Having spent his entire career in the National League, Owings has racked up 217 plate appearances as a pitcher and pinch-hitter. In the small sample size, he is a .286/.313/.507 hitter with nine home runs. He has struck out nearly eight times more than he has walked, but his power has been impressive. It is unlikely he could uphold a .286 average with regular at-bats, but could improve his poor discipline and the power potential does exist. As a pitcher, he has seen a small improvement since moving to the bullpen, but still struggles with control and the long ball.
A player with pop and capable of pitching 30 innings of low-leverage long relief seems like the perfect for the odd styling Tampa Bay Rays. The odds of a pairing happening are slim as Owings may get a chance somewhere else as a full-time pitcher; however, if he’s willing to try a slash role (DH/RP/PH), he could be Joe Maddon’s dream 25th man.