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Rays Finally Free Matt Joyce

Acquired before the 2009 season for Edwin Jackson, Matt Joyce has accumulated just 37 PA with the Rays despite posting a .355 wOBA in 277 PA with the Tigers the year before the trade. Part of that has been because of an elbow issue this season, and part of it has to do with his generally underwhelming big league performance last year (.329 wOBA).

The 25-year-old Joyce has crushed Triple-A pitching in the interim, hitting .273/.373/.482 with 35 doubles, 16 homers, and 14 steals in 493 plate appearances last year. Once he got over the elbow woes, he put up a stout .314/.458/.545 batting line in just over a month’s worth of games in the bush leagues. Carl Crawford‘s sore shoulder necessitated the addition of another outfielder, so up came Joyce and down went the supremely unproductive Dioner Navarro (.265 wOBA since the start of ’09).

CHONE projected a rather pedestrian .239/.325/.422 batting line from Joyce in 393 AB before the season, though that came with 15 homers and five steals. It’s not too difficult to see him outperforming that AVG, and the bat really isn’t the question. The playing time is.

Tampa enjoys perhaps more roster flexibility than any other team. Ben Zobrist can quite literally play anywhere. Willy Aybar has spent a bunch of time at DH this year, but he can handle the three non-shortstop infield positions with aplomb. Reid Brignac plays both middle infield spots, ditto Sean Rodriguez. The latter has also spent a bunch of time in centerfield this year. Depending on who’s banged up or who the opposing starter is or who’s swinging the bat well, Joe Maddon has plenty of options when filling out his lineup card.

Joyce figures to get regular at-bats for the time being, though that depends entirely on the severity of Crawford’s injury. Lefty masher Gabe Kapler is on the shelf with a hip issue, making a straight platoon unlikely for now. Hank Blalock has been having a devil of a time since being called up (.306 wOBA), so there’s a chance Joyce could steal some at-bats from him, especially with the three catcher situation dissolved and the need for one of John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach to be on the bench as the backup.

I definitely like Joyce for fantasy purposes given his potential for double digit homers and double digit steals (over a full season), even more so in OBP leagues. There are definitely worse options over there for 4th OF/2nd UTIL spots, and you know if Joyce produces, Maddon will give him playing time even after Crawford and Kapler return. The playing time isn’t really a concern in that he might be benched for weeks at a time, it’s just unpredictable. That could all be sorted out by next week, though. I love Joyce in AL only leagues and deep mixed leagues, though you can afford to wait a bit before pouncing in a normal 12-teamer. He’s available in pretty much every Yahoo! league, at the moment.