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Matt Joyce Is Free at Last

Entering today’s game against the San Diego Padres the Rays had somehow managed to keep outfielder Matt Joyce in the minors in spite of carrying three catchers and the ever fruitless Hank Blalock hanging on the 25 man roster. In more than 155 minor league plate appearances Joyce this year Joyce had a line of .314/.458/.545. Simply put: there nothing left for him to prove.

Almost as if a sign from a higher power, Carl Crawford left the game early with shoulder soreness; hours later Dioner Navarro would be optioned down and Joyce promoted. Obviously Crawford isn’t the player the Rays would like Joyce to replace, but the brevity between Crawford’s removal and Navarro’s demotion seems like a pretty clear indication that they aren’t too worried about the injury, otherwise they could’ve used Sean Rodriguez and Blalock in the outfield through the weekend before placing Crawford on the disabled list if the injury worsened. That didn’t happen, which suggests Crawford won’t miss but a game or two at most.

Joyce himself was placed on the disabled list on opening day and the chief concern with him right now is whether he can throw or not. Of course that worry is alleviated as a designated hitter; and to be clear: Joyce is going to outhit Blalock. He immediately becomes the Rays’ best option for right field or DH against right-handed pitching. This could lead to an interesting conflict with Sean Rodriguez though. Most days against righties the Rays will field Ben Zobrist, John Jaso (at catcher or DH), Reid Brignac, and Jason Bartlett; that can’t happen now without Joyce being the DH, and it means that Rodriguez won’t find his way onto the field unless Bartlett sits.

Another interesting development is what this means for Blalock. Reserve outfield Gabe Kapler’s time on the disabled list is drawing to a close. With Rodriguez making strides, both Blalock and Kapler fall into the redundancy zone, yet Kapler is the better player; the one who offers defensive value and is capable of pinch running. There was little buzz about Blalock this off-season (he chose between minor league offers from the two teams within the state of Florida) and the buzz for Blalock around his opt-out date never evolved into a trade. With the way he’s struggled in the majors, it seems unlikely he’s going to find himself in a better position anytime soon.