The Need For Speed
At the end of the season, Andrew Friedman expressed a few goals for the offseason as he planned out the 2014 Rays roster. One of those goals was a desire to add speed to the roster.
“We can’t force it, but to have more of a speed element would be ideal.”
In recent weeks, players that would have fit that mold such as Rajai Davis, Rafael Furcal, Nate McLouth, and Chris Young, have signed with other organizations while Craig Gentry was dealt to Oakland. When I asked Friedman about where that speed element goal stands now, he addressed the challenges of meeting that goal this offseason and that any addition of team speed would most likely come from the trade market rather than what is left on the free agency market (quote via Steve Kinsella):
“When we talked about it – it was something that ideally we’d be able to figure out how to arrange the pieces such that we were able to add that dynamic. That said, the total game always factors in terms of the value a player creates and we weren’t going to do it at the exclusion of a more talented players. It’s one of those things that we still need to address some areas of our team and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility. In a perfect world we would but I don’t know how it’s going to line up.”
An examination of the current depth chart points to at least two obvious spots where the team could add that element. Speed is usually found at positions up the middle as well as the outfield corners. Yunel Escobar, Desmond Jennings, and Ben Zobrist are at least firmly entrenched in the everyday lineup if not their position. Zobrist has, and will continue to, play both second base and the outfield. That opens up the possibility of acquiring a second baseman with speed when Zobrist plays in the outfield. The team also could add at least one right-handed batter with speed to platoon with David DeJesus and/or Matt Joyce.
With that in mind, there are three players whose skills fit the mold. One is a free agent, while the other two are in very crowded outfield situations.
Alexi Casilla is a switch-hitting middle reserve infielder has a very light bat, but does steal bases well. He is 45 of his last 52 in stolen base attempts over the past three season and is currently a free agent after being non-tendered by the Orioles.
Chris Denorfia is in the final year of a deal with San Diego that pays him $2.25M. He is currently one of eight outfielders on the San Diego 40-man roster that saw major league playing time last season and one of the five that bats right-handed. Over the past three seasons, Denorfia has a .374 wOBA against left-handed pitching and is 35 of 46 in stolen base attempts. It is unknown whether Denorfia is available, but it is known that the Padres are looking to add help in their bullpen.
Lastly, Drew Stubbs is projected to make $3.8M in arbitration this offseason according to MLBTR’s Matt Swartz. Stubbs has the athleticism to play all three positions, and is 87 for 106 in his stolen base opportunities over the past three seasons. There is a lot of swing and miss to his game, but he has a .348 wOBA against lefties from 2011 to 2013. It was reported earlier this week by Ken Rosenthal that the Indians are listening on all players because they have a very crowded outfield.
The lack of team speed was very evident in 2013 as the team finished with just 73 stolen bases, 61 fewer than the previous season. Despite the drop in steals, the team scored three more runs than it had in 2012 which speaks to the improvement in the overall offensive talent on the roster. That said, team leadership has an expressed interest in adding more speed back into the fold.