Manny Ramirez’s retirement has sent shockwaves through the baseball world, but it’s also left a pretty big hole in the middle of the Rays’ projected lineup.
The Rays took a calculated risk by signing Ramirez this winter, but despite his lack of production with the White Sox down the stretch last season, he still batted .298/.409/.460 with an .870 OPS over 320 plate appearances for the entire year. It was a worthwhile risk to take, especially at the bargain basement price of $2 million. Of course, the Rays are no longer responsible for his salary now that he has chosen to retire, but that doesn’t make his abrupt exit any easier to swallow.
Entering play Friday, the Rays have scored just eight runs over their first six games. They haven’t had a lead once. And they are expected to be without their best hitter Evan Longoria for at least the next two weeks with an oblique injury. They’re in deep trouble offensively, at least in the short-term.
The easy and most exciting impluse would be to call up top prospect Desmond Jennings from Triple-A Durham and stick him in left field, moving Johnny Damon to designated hitter. Then again, it’s in the best interests of the franchise for the long-term to delay his service time for a little while longer, so we probably won’t see him until some time after Memorial Day.
Following the announcement of Ramirez’s retirement, the Rays called up Casey Kotchman from Triple-A Durham, who will be the regular first baseman moving forward. Dan Johnson will become the primary designated hitter while Johnny Damon will remain in left field.
Swapping Kotchman for Ramirez is hardly exciting, but more than anything, it’s an indication that the Rays now know they don’t have the best chance to contend this season.
A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.
Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.
For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.
The Phillies reportedly signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Nava began the season on a one-year contract with the Angels, during which he slashed .235/.309/.303 through 136 PA in the first half of 2016. He was flipped to the Royals in late August for a player to be named later and saw the remainder of his year go down the drain on an .091 average through 12 PA in Anaheim. After getting the boot from the Angels’ 40-man roster in November, the 33-year-old outfielder elected free agency.
Nava is expected to compete for a bench role on the Phillies’ roster in the spring. As it currently stands, the club’s projected 2017 outfield features Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, with precious little depth behind them. Nava’s bat is underwhelming, but at the very least he offers the Phillies a warm body in left field and a potential platoon partner for one of their younger options, a la Tyler Goeddel or Roman Quinn.