Rays Sign an Old Face and a New One, Still One Shy
This very site that you are reading right this second has advocated for righty bats as long as the offseason has existed. Top targets for this analyst include Chris Carter and Franklin Gutierrez. You can scratch that second name off the list. With the Rays signing Rickie Weeks Jr. they have effectively gotten Franklin Gutierrez without the health concerns or the roster spot as Weeks signed a minor league deal that will keep both rosters lubricated for the nonce. Rickie has had a nice little career since being in the same draft as Mr. B.J. Upton. Like Upton, Weeks scorches lefties, but he also comes with some warts. At the ripe old age of 34 he is no longer able to capably defend second base, but that’s ok, because the need is for the short side of the platoon in left field with Corey Dickerson. That was the role that it made sense to sign Gutierrez, and that is the role that Weeks can capably fill. To wit:
Note that I have park-adjusted each player’s wOBA figures for the last five years. Steamer has provided the overall wOBA projection, and the totals are off slightly because I am double-counting 2016 with the rest of the career numbers in order to give a little more weight to the most recent period. They’re very similar except that Weeks was never able to be shielded from all those righties the way that Gutierrez has been able to be hidden. At the end of the day, I had hoped for a righty that mashes lefties that wouldn’t embarrass himself in left if given 250+ PA. I think the team has gotten that with Rickie Weeks Jr., and I feel this is a very astute signing.
That checks off one box, but what about the other? Well, that one can’t be checked off yet, however, the team did something a little weird that had me attitudin’ at first, but after some reflection I rather like the move. Re-signing Logan Morrison isn’t the worst idea, and does represent something of an upgrade. Being able to move Brad Miller back into the middle infield at second base would allow the team to tap a little bit more into his athleticism, and should help his total production figures, which might take a hit as I think his power gets reined in a little bit this year. That left a hole at his prior position, first base. While I have advocated pretty hard for Chris Carter, I wouldn’t want him as my everyday first baseman. He can see a little time there, but I’d still prefer to have a lefty over there for the lion’s share of the time. If Miller was moving over to second base, that meant that Nick Franklin was that guy.
I like Nick Franklin. He plays hard, and is willing to move where he is told within the field and across the positional spectrum. It cannot be easy to be a good defender if you’re never able to devote full focus to one position so I don’t want to beat him up too much, but from what we have seen he isn’t a good defender at any of the positions he has played. Add in that he is a switch hitter in name only and you’ve got a fringe piece that you’d prefer to upgrade upon. The Rays did that very thing. Morrison hits both types of pitchers better, and is a better defender at first base:
The gap between these two players is rather large, and certainly offsets the extra two million dollars that Morrison will get in his deal compared to Franklin’s league minimum salary. We saw what LoMo could really do last year after his disastrous start to the season. Through May first he had taken 68 plate appearances and managed an incredible -29 wRC+. That isn’t a typo. Through his first 105 he managed to get that up to 33. Over the next 293 he would put up a 125 wRC+ with an isolated power of .220, fine walk:strikeout numbers, and enough average. You can see above that the matchup tool thinks pretty highly of him, at least against righties, of which there are many in Major League Baseball. He leaves much to be desired against lefties, but that is where Carter comes in.
There is still room on this team for one more right-handed slugger where all we care about is the bat. There just so happens to be a couple remaining in free agency, and also a new entrant with the recently designated for assignment Byung-Ho Park, of who I want no part, but smarter folks than I rave about him. He is owed nine million dollars over the next three years, while Carter could probably be had on a one year deal for five to six million dollars. Mike Napoli is another player out there who profiles similarly, but based on name recognition I would expect him to sign for more like eight to ten million dollars. Here’s how they compare using the matchup tool:
The system likes Carter a little more than the others against both types of pitchers, and while he is certainly a worse defender than Mike Napoli, I think that is mitigated a ton by him being able to slot into the designated hitter role in the lineup. Yeah, he could start occasionally at first base when you want to give Morrison a rest, but there is only so much damage he would be able to do in 30-40 games. For me, it is a no brainer that Carter should be the guy. Meanwhile, it is a shame that the team probably won’t be able to get anything for Franklin, killing an entire branch of the David Price trade tree, I might add, but that should not be a factor in whether he should be retained. The team has an opportunity to really add to their offense, particularly against lefties. Here’s what a lineup could look like with Carter in tow:
Carter would immediately become the best hitter against lefties, and still be an above average hitter against righties. Until Wilson Ramos needs the designated hitter slot he could be an everyday guy, though the team could also work him a little at first base against tougher lefties and rotate someone else through that DH spot. You can see that Weeks would be a welcome edition, and that Lomo would be useful versus right-handed pitchers, if nothing else. The team just added two guys that can stroke opposite-handed pitching, but getting a guy like Carter that can do it versus both would really put this lineup over. Once Wilson Ramos comes back they should be fine against lefties, but until then it would really help to have another very strong bat to add to the mix. More good players is better than less good players, and the team can figure it out later. Go get Carter. Make us proud, Rays front office.