ST. PETERSBURG -- Clarity about the Rays' outfield situation was supposed to come once they made a deal, right?Well, the Rays have brought aboard two new outfielders this week, and now the situation is more confusing than it has been at any point since the 2016 season came to a
ST. PETERSBURG -- Clarity about the Rays' outfield situation was supposed to come once they made a deal, right?
Well, the Rays have brought aboard two new outfielders this week, and now the situation is more confusing than it has been at any point since the 2016 season came to a close.
Earlier this week, the Rays agreed with Colby Rasmus on a $5 million deal, with $2 million in incentives. Rasmus looked like a good fit in left field, as he plays solid defense and has a plus arm. He can also back up Kevin Kiermaier in center field, and he can be used at designated hitter.
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Prior to the signing, Corey Dickerson had been the Rays' primary option in left field and at DH. In a perfect world, Tampa Bay would have preferred a right-handed bat -- Rasmus hits from the left side. Still, his addition definitely upgraded the Rays' offensive profile.
On Wednesday, the Rays added to their outfield depth by trading Drew Smyly to the Mariners for Mallex Smith and two Minor Leaguers.
Last season, Smith played 35 games in center field, 22 in left and one in right for the Braves. His season was shortened by nearly three months due to a fractured left thumb.
Smith will bring some speed to Tampa Bay. His 16 stolen bases ranked fifth among Major League rookies. Smith is a career .297/.383/.392 hitter over parts of five Minor League seasons, having recorded 230 stolen bases across 399 games, including a Minor League-leading 88 steals in 2014.
Steven Souza Jr., Dickerson, Michael Mahtook and Nick Franklin also are in the mix.
Why did the Rays acquire Smith?
Rays senior vice president of baseball operations/general manager Erik Neander told reporters they made the move because Smith was an impact player and they wanted to create a more competitive environment in their outfield. In other words, no free lunches.
Two-time Gold Glove Award winner Kiermaier would seem to be a lock in center. Center field is Smith's main position. Trading Kiermaier doesn't appear to be a logical move, so where Smith will play?
In left field, Rasmus and Dickerson likely were earmarked for the position, with Mahtook and Franklin getting some consideration. The Rays have not officially announced the Rasmus trade, so perhaps there is a chance that something falls through on the deal. Is Tampa Bay considering trading Dickerson, who is the most likely candidate to be the team's DH? Would the club trade Mahtook, a former No. 1 Draft pick? Franklin appears set as the team's No. 1 utility guy, and he is out of options.
Souza appeared set for right field. His 2016 ended in the final weeks due to hip surgery, and when asked earlier in the offseason about his hip, Souza said all was well. Maybe the Rays aren't willing to pencil him in as their right fielder just yet. Souza, Smith and Mahtook all have options, too, which means Tampa Bay can send them to Triple-A Durham without risk of losing them.
So there are many possibilities, but it's likely the herd will get thinned at some point before Spring Training.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow him on Twitter at @_wwchastain.