Last season, the Rays signed Gabe Kapler to platoon with Gabe Gross in right field. Yesterday the Rays re-signed the righty bopper to partake in a similar role, this time likely with Matt Joyce. The details of the contract are pretty minor; it’s a one-year $1.05M deal, which represents a slight raise over Kapler’s salary of $1,000,018 last year.
The Rays are a glutton for outfielders. Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton are two of the best defenders in baseball, Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez are serviceable, and there’s always Joyce and the highly touted Desmond Jennings to join the fray sometime next year as well, so re-signing Kapler may raise some eyebrows. He’s older and more susceptible to false praise about how hard he runs or devoted he is to working out. Still, Kapler holds some quantifiable attributes that should help the 2010 version of the Rays out.
For one, he hammers left-handed pitching. Over his last three seasons against southpaws – seasons, instead of years, since Kapler was busy managing in the minor leagues in 2007 – Kapler has maintained OPSs of .931 (145 AB), 1.001 (82 AB), and .749 (68 AB). Kapler is less effective against righties, but Joe Maddon used him efficiently last season and there’s no reason to believe Maddon will suddenly become liberal in his substitution patterns based on platoon splits. Kapler should get around 200 plate appearances with at least 75% coming with a platoon advantage. He should also have a higher OPS against right-handers next than .357 (aided by a BABIP near .200).
Kapler is better than pedestrian as a defender, too. The raw UZR numbers account only for the playing time he receives, so the last three seasons (from most recent to oldest: 6.2, 3.2, and 1.5) aren’t entirely telling of his talent level. His UZR/150s during that same time period are 9.7, 11.4, and 6.1; that makes him an above average defender and one capable of manning the occasional post in center if needed.
Watching Kapler is entirely captivating yet, at times, maddening. He plays the outfield and runs the bases like a spider on LSD – which is to say he appears to have eight legs and lacks basic control of each – and he looks like your typical jockhead with big muscles, a shaved head, eye black, the occasional pair of high socks. Then you listen to him talk and he comes off articulate and personable. Jonah Keri swore by this after spending some time talking to him last spring training, and I was in disbelief until hearing him in a post-game interview.
Quite a bit has been made locally about the Rays ignoring clubhouse chemistry and all that jazz, yet if the Rays win this season or in 2010, I guarantee Kapler would be praised as one of the glue guys. There’s enough grit and hustle to captivate the casual fan, yet still a pinch of underrated charm to endear the more sophisticated crowd.
Given the low cost and likely production of Kapler, this has the looking of an easy win on the Rays end.