Breaking Down The Fourth (Outfield) Wall | The Process Report

Breaking Down The Fourth (Outfield) Wall

Though the Rays are set to lose center fielder B.J. Upton through free agency, adding an outfielder is not necessarily a priority on the offseason wish list. Desmond Jennings will presumably shift to center field —his natural position—to replace Upton. Matt Joyce will likely remain as the team’s primary right fielder and Sam Fuld could see a larger role in left. Brandon Guyer may be a dance partner for one of the left-handed hitters as well as Ben Zobrist. If the Rays wanted to stay in-house they could.

But Guyer is coming off shoulder surgery and remains an unknown at the big-league level, and Zobrist will be needed in the infield in some capacity. This could lead Andrew Friedman to seek additional help from outside the organization. If so, here are some names that may fit.

Matt Diaz was drafted by Tampa Bay in 1999 and made his major-league debut in a Devil Rays uniform. His time in St. Petersburg was limited, but he went on to carve out a niche for himself with the Braves as a solid platoon player. A right-handed batter, Diaz has excelled against left-handed pitching, compiling a .324/.364/.498 slash line against southpaws in just over 1,000 plate appearances.

Diaz’s production at the plate has declined in recent years, and he’s suffered through some injury woes. Defensively he is below-average, though his shortcomings appear to be manageable with limited exposure. Considering his recent performance, age (34), and his 2012 season ending with surgery, Diaz may no longer be in the business of guaranteed contracts. As a non-roster invitee, Diaz is worth a look, but expecting anything more is risky.

The younger Hairston brother, Scott Hairson, is on the market after two productive seasons with the Mets. In 2012, the 32-year-old played his largest role to date, appearing in a career-high 134 games and registering 398 plate appearances. Despite his relatively small frame, Hairston is more of a slugger than anything else. His career on-base percentage is barely over .300, but his ISO checks in above .200. He is a better overall hitter against left-handed pitchers, but his power translates against right-handers as well.

After back-to-back one-year contracts, Hairston may seek a multi-year deal this winter. This could be a turn-off for Tampa Bay. If additional years do not become available then Hairston should be a target for the Rays. He would work well in a tandem with Joyce or Fuld in a corner position where he is close to an average defender.

Somewhere in between the two names above is Reed Johnson. He is a safer bet for production than Diaz, but does not offer the punch of Hairston. A former regular with the Blue Jays, he has enjoyed recent success as a fourth outfielder, specializing against left-handed pitching. The bulk of Johnson’s offensive value comes from average. Without much power and a willingness to walk, Johnson relies on base hits as his main source of production.

Though that sounds a lot like Jeff Keppinger, Johnson does not possess the same contact skills and strikes out more than the average batter. Defensively, Johnson has extended experience at all three outfield positions; something neither Hairston or Diaz can say. His ability to play center field is questionable and his limited range is better suited for a corner position.

In 2012, Johnson played on a one-year, $1.15 million deal with the Cubs and later the Braves. Coming off an average season, and entering 2013 as a 36-year-old, he may have to settle for another one-year deal at a similar wage. If that is the case, he could be a low-risk/modest reward signing for Tampa Bay.

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  1. George Kruse wrote:

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