Finding a Platoon Mate for Corey Dickerson
Recently, Hanselman wrote about Corey Dickerson’s 2016 season in depth and what a key contributor he should be for the Rays moving moving forward. He should be able to crush righties once again in 2017, but the Rays need to find him a platoon-mate. Preferably one that can mash lefties, play left field or first base. Ironically, a player with the skill set that Desmond Jennings had when he was fully healthy is exactly what the Rays need. Since the Rays released Jennings last season and his knees are probably not suitable to hold up playing on astroturf anymore, he’s no longer an option. Rajai Davis would’ve been a great fit for this role but the Athletics signed him to a 1-year deal worth $6 million. That would have been an ideal signing for the Rays especially at that price but alas here we are. So here are a few options the Rays can explore to find that type of player.
Ideally the Rays would probably like to keep Mahtook at Durham to start the season as insurance but he could possibly make the opening day roster. After a strong debut in September of 2015, Mahtook struggled mightily in limited big league time this past season. He showed awful plate discipline struck out in almost 35% of his ABs, and walked only 4% of the time. His ISO was only .097, and wasn’t even a threat on the bases going without a stolen base. To put it simply, he looked overmatched. It happens to younger players getting used to major league pitching. Mahtook still played quality defense and has the ability to play all three outfield positions, which makes him still useful if he doesn’t hit. Mahtook always hit right-handed pitching well in the minors and might be able to make an adjustment but it’s in the Rays best interest if he starts the season in Durham. He can get everyday at bats down there, and be called in case of an injury. Mahtook is nice outfield depth to have but shouldn’t be the Rays’ first choice to platoon with Dickerson.
Gutierrez has always been an optimal platoon outfielder. He comes cheaply, he crushes lefties and plays adequate defense. His .289 lifetime average against lefties is exceptional, and his 129 wRC+ lifetime against lefties immediately makes him one of the best hitters in the Rays’ lineup when facing a southpaw. Defensively he’s had experience at all three outfield positions but hasn’t played center since 2013. The fact that he probably can’t spell Kiermaier in center is probably the biggest knock against the Rays’ signing him but he would be fine in either corner outfield position. He was below average in right field according to defensive runs saved and UZR in right field this past season but he should be at least adequate there if they needed him there. Left field is where you would expect to see him mostly if he’s in the field where he was a plus defender as recently as 2015. He is not going to light the world on fire with his glove, but with Kiermaier out there he’d be fine at either corner spot.
Carter signed a 1-year deal worth $2.5 million last season with Milwaukee and ended up leading the NL with 41 home runs. He brings some serious power to the table as he’s hit at least 24 homers a season since 2013, and his SLG has been above .420 every season. He strikes out a ton with a rate of at least 30% of his plate appearances every season of his career, but he does consistently walk at a decent rate (BB% above 11% four out of the past five seasons). His batting average will never impress anyone as he’s around a .220 hitter vs both lefties and righties but his power more than makes up for it. The Brewers non-tendered him this offseason and in a market where power hitters who strike out a ton are undervalued this could be a great opportunity for the Rays to pounce on a hitter with tremendous power for an extremely cheap deal.
Potential Trade Targets:
Smolinski could fill this role if the Rays wanted to go this route and trade for a player. I wouldn’t give up much for him, though. He can play all three outfield positions, and is about a league average defender at all three. He’s pretty solid against lefties with a .290 career average and 138 wRC+ against them for his career. Not being arbitration-eligible until after this upcoming season means he’ll make the minimum in 2017. The A’s don’t have much incentive to trade him so they might ask for a decent prospect or two in exchange. Personally, I wouldn’t give up much for a player with his skill set and would rather just pay a small amount for a similar player in free agency. Smolinski is a nice player and if you can get him without giving up any major assets then it is a good move but if you have to part with a prospect of value I’d probably pass.
Overall I’d say signing Chris Carter or Franklin Gutierrez on a cheap 1-year deal is the best way to fill this role. You don’t have to give up any assets and either one could provide a nice boost offensively. Carter’s power potential against both righties and lefties will likely make him a bit more expensive, though. Either way the recent reported signing of Colby Rasmus allows the Rays some flexibility and any one of these players could fill the role of Corey Dickerson’s platoon mate. We’ll see what happens next.