Rays Still Looking for that Left Field Platoonmate
Earlier in the offseason Joe Saunders had a nice look at some right-handed options that could platoon with Corey Dickerson (or Colby Rasmus) in left field. Since then, the team has traded Mikie Mahtook to the Tigers, while free agent options like Chris Carter and Franklin Gutierrez have signed with the Yankees and Dodgers, respectively. I was, and remain, less enamored with the option he threw out as a trade target, Jake Smolinski, but perhaps Joe was on the right path. The team has yet to fill this small, yet vital role with a right-handed hitter that can smash lefties, and preferably play well above average defense in a corner. I think Joe was on the right trail that it would take a trade to fill this need.
Before looking at what the team could chase it would be beneficial to know what they would be willing to give up. I don’t see any of the notable prospects being on board, but the team should be looking to turn a less appealing option on the 40-man roster into filling this need. Ideally, the team can give up a somewhat useful or promising, albeit superfluous, player to get someone that can fill the need right now. Here is how I would rank those potential players using a couple of broad categories. Remember, you get what you give:
Far Away with Low Value:
Close with Medium Value:
Here with Low Value:
These eight guys are probably the ones with the weakest grip on a 40-man roster spot. The team expected the league to want enough of Jose Alvarado that they felt the need to protect from the Rule V draft, but I don’t think they could reasonably expect to get much for him making him more of a throw in or lotto ticket to any deal. The closer guys probably have more value to another team than to the Rays as all of them look like useful pitchers that will get squeezed out in a competitive system. I’ve ranked these guys from who I like the best to worst left to right. I could see the team moving one of these guys, but it would likely need to be for a player with some control. Each of these guys has the full 6+ years, and enough options where a difficult decision can be staved off for some time.
The last group are the guys that have matriculated to the top of the organization, but just aren’t quite good enough to be on the 25-man roster of a team that fancies itself a contender. If the team is trying to add a player it should be these guys that are moved first as they’re the weakest link on a 25-man roster. Going further, Maile and Garton have options so that they could go back and forth between Durham and St. Pete. Nick Franklin does not enjoy such exclusive status. For me, he’s the guy that needs to go.
It’s not that I don’t like Nick. He has some value as an above-average hitter of righties, and he can move around the diamond. He hasn’t played any position particularly well, but I feel that is part of the trade off of asking him to play all over. I think his defense would play up if he could focus on a singular position, but in the meantime there is value in being able to go stand wherever you are asked. His real value comes from the fact that he will make league minimum this year with three years of arbitration left to go. Whoever controls his rights will do so through the end of the 2020 season. It’s a lot of little things to like, and a big reason the team does so, but with the number of other guys that hit righties well it might make sense for the Rays to turn those little things into something more useful. Even if it lacks long term control.
So Nick Franklin is the guy that I would like to get something for, and I don’t expect it to be a whole lot coming back for him. Something along the lines of Smolinski as outlined by Saunders. The team should be targeting a right-handed hitter that can play better than average defense and hopefully fill center field from time to time. Getting this type of player means that the team could effectively always have two center fielders in the outfield at any time. They already have Kevin Kiermaier and Colby Rasmus against righties, but they could extend that advantage by getting a righty for left field for when you have to sit Rasmus.
That’s the ideal for the Rays so the next trick is finding a team that could use a lefty bat like Nick Franklin that also has a right-handed outfielder that is perhaps unnecessary. Then I came across this snippet from the excellent Shi Davidi:
On Saturday, after the Blue Jays’ first full-squad workout, Ross Atkins called Smoak playing every day at first with Steve Pearce the primary left-fielder as the club’s “best-case scenario,” for the positions, the first time he’s expressed that so explicitly.
That would seem to leave a familiar face to Rays fans out in the cold. When the Blue Jays acquired Melvin Upton Jr. they did so because the cost was essentially nothing in prospect value as the team agreed to take on $5M of the remaining money owed to Upton. They had a need with Jose Bautista ailing and Ezequiel Carrera floundering so they went and got Upton after a scorching first half with the San Diego Padres. After bringing Bautista back into the fold, and signing Pearce, there appears to be little playing time for a guy that does exactly what the Rays need. At the same time, the Jays have a real need for a guy that can hit righties pretty well, and has shown the lack of ego necessary to play wherever he is asked on a given day.
I think Franklin could fill a real need for the Jays, and gaining Upton would give the Rays exactly what they need. I would expect the Jays to eat nearly all of the $5M owed to Upton, and in return they would get four years of control of a useful player that fills a present and future need. Additionally, Atkins, Shapiro and the rest of the front office that came over from the Indians has shown that they like to control players almost as much as the Rays do so I could see them having heightened interest in Franklin.
If you’re still reading you’re probably wondering why the Rays would even want Upton back? As mentioned, he would give the team another dynamic defender in left field so that the team could have two very good outfielders on any given day with the third guy usually never being worse than average. This is an opportunity for the team to leverage their roster to the fullest extent. I say this as someone that feels the team needs one more good right-handed bat that can help combat the plethora of lefties and reverse split righties that the team will face within their division. Here is how Upton compares to others with a similar workload (>200PA) over the past two years against lefties:
When he has the platoon advantage Melvin is a pretty good hitter. Sure, he strikes out a lot, but he also walks at a nearly elite rate and his ISO is only a small step down from that lofty perch. The average has been, well, average, but it is driven by very good on base and slugging percentages. His wOBA and wRC+ figures are very strong, especially when you factor in what should be very good defense in a corner that plays to average or just under in CF when that is needed. Additionally, Upton could pair with Kiermaier, Weeks Jr. to a lesser extent, and eventually Mallex Smith to give the team some semblance of an ability to steal bags.
Upton would give the team another useful two-way player, and while you would have to manage his playing time I think it makes sense to try to get something useful for Nick Franklin who doesn’t appear to be able to get a ton of playing time, this year. I have no idea if the Blue Jays would be interested, but the Rays sure should. Where there is a hole that can be filled without losing much of anything the team should strive to fill that hole. Go get it done, team.