As you’ve all seen/read/heard by now, the big news late last week revolved around one Manuel Aristides Ramírez Onelcida and his abrupt retirement from baseball. Expected to be a big part of the Rays’ offense when he signed in the offseason, Ramirez said goodbye after just 17 (mostly hitless) at-bats rather than face whatever “issue” he was alerted of by MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Our Jonah Keri chimed in with his immediate reaction in the wake of the news, but let’s break down the fantasy fallout of Manny’s decision.
Obviously, this development creates an opening for some Rays player(s) to grab extra PT. Tampa Bay’s immediate real-life response was to recall 1B Casey Kotchman from Triple-A, but unless your league counts ground ball rates, we can safely write off that move in fantasy circles. Ramirez was slated to get most (if not all) of his time at DH, making for all sorts of replacement options, yet the three players with the most intrigue just so happen to be outfielders: Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld and Desmond Jennings.
But first, it’s important to consider just how awful the Rays’ offense has been. Minus Monday night’s 16-run outburst, Tampa’s averaged only 2.2 runs per game. Off to a 2-8 start and now without Ramirez forever and Evan Longoria (strained oblique) for a month, the plan for 2011 may be changing drastically in the coming weeks. The team’s best course of action in the short-term, though, would be to insert the best hitters still available. That means no messing around with Kotchman or Elliot Johnson. For what it’s worth, including Monday’s game, the Rays’ had their two biggest offensive outputs in the four games since Ramirez skedaddled. Takeaway: There can still be value here.
He was a potentially worthwhile late-game play in drafts, and that only seems more prescient now that Joyce becomes the biggest beneficiary. Except when facing tough lefties, he’ll likely get (nearly) everyday at-bats while seeing time as the DH or rightfielder. Not only is that good for Joyce, but it’s also good for fantasy owners, since his skill set makes for an actionable free agent add or waiver claim. Johnny Damon is the primary competition, since he’s no longer defensively reliable and thus relegated to DHing more often. But considering both Damon and Joyce hit lefthanded, there’s no real platoon option, and the smarter choice would be to——finally——see what the 26-year-old with legit 25-homer power (.236 career ISO) can do on a full-time basis rather than waste time with an aging slap-hitter.
The 29-year-old came over in the Matt Garza trade and is off to a nice start to 2011, especially after going to town against the Red Sox Monday night: 4-for-6 with 3 runs and 3 RBIs, a Pesky pole homer, a triple and two doubles. But don’t get any ideas that Fuld is a big bopper; the career minor-leaguer is a singles hitter with enough speed to swipe 20 bases if everything breaks just right. And it is, at least for now. Aside from this catch, the most interesting thing so far about Fuld——who has more walks than strikeouts in his pro career——is that he’s hit leadoff in all four games PM.* Even if he’s really more of a fourth outfielder at best and the hitters behind him aren’t exactly hurting baseballs right now, there’s a chance at decent runs and steals here, for you 14-team leaguers or AL-only scouts.
While Joyce gets the best immediate boost in value, Jennings owners in keeper and dynasty leagues must have danced a few jigs on Friday night.* Long considered one of baseball’s best prospects, the 24-year-old lost his presumed starting job in the bigs when the Rays brought in Manny and Damon in one fell swoop this past winter, making it difficult to see where, when and how the speedster would fit in at all in 2011. He’s currently tackling Triple-A for a third time (.350, 1 HR, 2 SB in his first five games) and the Rays are overly conservative with their prospects, so don’t expect to see Jennings until late-May at the earliest. But it’s comforting to know now that he has a clearer path toward helping the Rays——and fantasy owners——at some point this season. Once he’s up, he’ll have an everyday job in the outfield, and if he can stay healthy (which has been an issue in the past), he’s a .300 hitter with good plate discipline (walk rate over 10% in minors). Better yet, Jennings’ elite speed——he’s averaged 42 steals in his four full minor-league seasons——will translate to the bigs immediately.
*Or if that’s already part of your regular Friday night routine, then a few more jigs.
The bottom line is that with every departure comes new potential for others. In this case, Joyce is the biggest winner because he should get the chance he’s deserved for a while to show what he can do in a regular role. But Fuld could wind up being an undrafted-in-every-league helper, and Jennings will get his shot down the line.