ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have had a lot of things fall their way since changing the franchise's fortunes in 2008. Unfortunately, successfully filling the designated-hitter slot has not been one of those.
"[The DH] has never been a comfortable spot or highly productive spot for us in the past," manager Joe Maddon said at the Winter Meetings.
Numbers accrued by Rays designated hitters have not been anything to brag about. A group effort at DH in 2008 -- mostly by Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske, Willy Aybar, Jonny Gomes and Rocco Baldelli -- combined to hit .246 with 24 home runs and 78 RBIs, with a .323 OBP and a .751 OPS. Those stand as the best results at DH during Tampa Bay's six consecutive winning seasons.
Johnny Damon ranks as the top DH during that span after hitting .264 with 16 home runs, 69 RBIs, a .329 OBP and a .763 OPS in 2011.
Credit the Rays for trying to address the problem. They signed Pat Burrell to a two-year deal prior to the 2009 season, and the veteran slugger did not work out. After hitting .221 as a DH that year, his average dropped to .209 in 26 games the following season as a DH before being designated for assignment May 15, 2010.
Luke Scott batted .237 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs as a DH in 2012. After posting a .225 average during 63 games while serving as the DH in '13, Scott has now moved on to play this year in Korea.
The DH effort in 2013 ranked particularly low when a group effort at the position produced a .214 batting average with 20 home runs, 74 RBIs, a .307 OBP and a .680 OPS.
Contrast those numbers to the Red Sox, who saw their designated hitters post a .310 average with 33 home runs, 110 RBIs, a .398 OBP and a .958 OPS. David Ortiz drove the Boston train for the most part by hitting .309 with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs, with a .395 OBP and a .959 OPS. Of the 135 games in which Ortiz played, 129 were at DH.
Ortiz's numbers were the best of any DH, providing one of the biggest differences between the Rays and Red Sox this past season. Of note, Ortiz made $14 million to put those numbers on the board.
"It's not that easy a position," Maddon said. "People think it's easy, but to control the mental component of that, sitting around in between at-bats, especially after a couple of bad at-bats, to come out and be productive is not an easy thing to do."
So where does that leave Tampa Bay heading into 2014? Based on the futility the Rays have experienced in the past trying to fill the role, chances are they won't go out and try to sign or trade for a big bat. Instead, it's more likely they will enter the season with a DH-by-committee.
"Sometimes it's almost easier to do it that way ... unless you really nail it down with the guy who digs it and is good at it," Maddon said. "[Finding somebody] that's good at that, they don't just fall out of trees readily."
As it stands, Tampa Bay's DH rotation could include Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez and the regular player who needs a break. And that's fine with Maddon.
Joyce has a career average of .249, but in 47 games as a DH, he's batting just .156. Rodriguez has a lifetime average of .228, but he's yet to record a hit in 17 at-bats as a DH.
"So I'm OK with the rotating component of it for a variety of different reasons, and a lot of it has to do with our mixing and matching and getting guys off their feet, etc.," Maddon said.
In addition, by going with a DH-by-committee, the Rays' roster would be more flexible by not tying up a spot with a DH type who is a liability in the field.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.