What To Make Of Tampa Bay’s Crowded Outfield

We’ve reached the month of December, and the Tampa Bay Rays overpopulated outfield has not yet been trifled with. Contracts have been tendered to the two arbitration-eligible outfielders on the roster, Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings, but rookie GM Matt Silverman has an abundance of critical decisions left to make.

It still appears very likely that at least some shifting will occur among the current outfield group before pitchers and catchers report next Spring. Whether it’s Matt Joyce, who’s post-arbitration salary projects to reach nearly $5 million, David DeJesus, or possibly even Desmond Jennings, expect one or more components of this makeshift group to be on the move in the upcoming weeks.

The most logical trade candidate is still Matt Joyce. The Tampa native even stated near the end of last season that he expects to dealt. “I think it’s just part of the game and how they operate, how they do business and I understand that,” Joyce said. It seemed that Joyce was coming into his own during his All-Star campaign of 2011, but has since fallen off the map.

Joyce’s statistics since 2011 (According to Fangraphs)

2011: .277 AVG, .347 OBP, .478 SLG, 126 wRC+, 3.5 fWAR

2012: .241 AVG, .341 OBP, .429 SLG, 116 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR

2013: .235 AVG, .328 OBP, .419 SLG, 112 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR

2014: .254 AVG, .349 OBP, .383 SLG, 113 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR

The 30-year-old possess a sweet left-handed swing, but it’s his consistent inability to hit left-handed pitching that severely decreases his value. However, he does contain a healthy amount of power in his swing, and that should make him a somewhat appealing commodity.

David DeJesus was signed to a multi-year contract several months after the Rays acquired him from the Washington Nationals in September of 2013. Although he suffered through an injury-shortened 2014 season, his tenacious play and on-base skills make him valuable, but maybe not valuable enough to warrant the $5,125,000 salary he’s slated to earn next year. If the Rays are able to erase Joyce’s comparable salary from the payroll, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see DeJesus inhabiting the top of Tampa Bay’s lineup again next season.

Slugging right fielder Wil Myers and defensive-marvel Kevin Kiermaier are the only presumed locks for Tampa Bay’s 2015 Opening Day roster, although those two might be splitting time in the outfield. Myers will be in the lineup everyday, but Kiermaier proved his worth while Myers was injured last season, and should receive his fair share of starts as well. There is some conjecture that the Rays could look to deal Desmond Jennings to open up an everyday spot for Kiermaier, but that would be improbable, and doesn’t seem especially practical at this point anyway.

Assuming Jennings isn’t traded, Kiermaier might find himself bouncing around positions and lineup spots. Kiermaier shares Matt Joyce’s struggles when it comes to hitting lefties (it’s somewhat forgivable given his age and inexperience), but his athleticism and defensive prowess will make it difficult to keep him out of the lineup on most nights.

If I had to guess, I would surmise that the Rays move into next season with Myers, Kiermaier, Jennings, DeJesus, and Brandon Guyer, another fine outfielder that should see increased playing time next season. Myers, Jennings, and DeJesus should be the leading trio, with Kiermaier and Guyer playing in a more expanded role, and the ever-versatile Ben Zobrist getting the occasional start out there as well.

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