Front Office Did Their Due Diligence
The Rays performance last year gnawed at the front office. Matt Silverman insisted there were bright spots on the roster, but admitted that when you finish 25 games out of first, there aren’t enough bright spots.
After last season, Rays’ Manager Kevin Cash was asked what was the worst thing that happened to the team.
“Kevin Kiermaier’s injury was pretty difficult. We knew as soon as he got hurt that it was going to be tough for us to withstand that. But, when he was gone we probably realized that even more.”
The Rays were determined to add depth and competition to their roster over the winter, specifically, in their outfield. At the Winter Meetings Rays VP Of Baseball Operations Erik Neander said the team needed to be realistic where we finished in the standings. “I think at a minimum, we need to create greater competition for the various spots for playing time on our club.”
One area that needed greater competition was the Rays’ outfield. Last season a bevy of players wore the leather out there including Corey Dickerson, Jaff Decker, Oswaldo Arcia, Brandon Guyer, Mikie Mahtook, Desmond Jennings, and Nick Franklin. Some had moderate success with the bat (Dickerson, Franklin, Guyer) but the defensive struggles were embarrassing.
The defensive lapses were especially notable during Kevin Kiermaier‘s absence. Kiemaire broke his left hand attempting a diving catch on May 21st against the Detroit Tigers. In the 48 games Kiermaier missed the Rays went 14-34. There were other factors, but the outfield defense was a big reason why. For a comprehensive look at the Rays’ defense during Kiermaier’s absence, I highly recommend Joshua Morgan’s piece at Draysbay. (Kevin Kiermaier is set to return, and should make the Rays way better).
Going into the offseason, the front office needed to add outfielders that could impact both sides of the ball. Ideally, they would have at least one outfielder that could man the center of the diamond when Kiermaier needed a day off or in the event of an injury of any duration.
After the deal, Erik Neander once again spoke of the teams need to be more dynamic, have a greater mix, and increased competition on the roster. Mallex Smith fit the mold of what the Rays were seeking.
“When looking at Mallex, this is a guy who’s a very capable base stealer that’s an impact athlete. The speed and the game he plays is very dynamic. It adds value on both sides of the ball.” Neander said in a teleconference after the trade. “To diversify our group, to add competition, and to do it with someone that’s young who we think is still on their way up is something that really excites us”
But, the front office wasn’t done adding outfielders. A week after acquiring Smith, the Rays’ signed outfielder Colby Rasmus to a one-year deal.
Despite a down year with the bat, his defense was as good as ever as he registered 20 defensive runs saved appearing in 87 games in left field, 21 in center, and 11 in right.
His 20 defensive runs saved ranked fourth in all of baseball for outfielders behind the Boston Red Sox’ Mookie Betts (32), Rays’ teammate Kevin Kiermaier (25), and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar (21). He lead all major league outfielders with a 31 ultimate zone rating (UZR/150).
“We’ve liked Colby for awhile. One of the things we like about him is he’s not a one dimensional player. We know he has a lot of sock in his bat. He can change a game with his power, but he’s also a very good athlete and he impacts the game defensively.” Chaim Bloom said. “For us to get someone who we see as a very good defensive outfielder with the ability to play centerfield, layer that on to how he can impact a game at the plate, that was a very attractive combination for us.”
The Rays didn’t leave anything to chance. With Colby Rasmus slated to open the season on the disabled list, the Rays weren’t content with Mallex Smith as the only capable option in CF behind Kiermaier.
On March 28th they added to their outfield depth by acquiring Peter Bourjos in exchange for cash considerations from the Chicago White Sox. Bourjos, a right handed bat, has spent most of last season in right field with the Philadelphia Phillies, but has played the majority of his career in center.
The Rays outfield fell apart last season with the most glaring hole in centerfield. Matt Silverman said that the organization saw a lot of the bad things last year. Adding that they would use the experience to identify areas and spend the offseason looking to improve on them.
Outfield defense and depth was a huge area of concern after 2016. Now, their efforts will be put to the test as the team will be without Kevin Kiermaier for a minimum of 6-8 weeks.