ORLANDO — Absent from the Tampa Bay Rays’ to-do list this winter is finding a designated hitter, which might be a sign the team has come to grips with the reality that it usually whiffs in that search.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at last week’s general managers meetings that his team could employ a four-man rotation through the DH spot in 2014 with Matt Joyce and David DeJesus as the left-handed half of that quartet and Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings swinging from the right side.
A move such as this will save the club some money, help maximize the versatility of the roster and give manager Joe Maddon a chance to get Jennings and Myers off Tropicana Field’s unforgiving AstroTurf during long homestands while still keeping their bats in the lineup.
Keeping Myers’ legs fresh was one reason Maddon began using the 22-year-old rookie at DH for stretches beginning in mid-August.
While the position is generally used to get another slugger in the lineup, Maddon often uses his DH to create better matchups against the opposing pitchers. The Rays used 15 players at DH last season, and they hit in all nine spots in the order.
Those 15 combined to hit 20 home runs, though the power came from only seven players — Luke Scott (8), Delmon Young (3), Myers (3), Joyce (2), Shelley Duncan (2), Evan Longoria (1) and Kelly Johnson (1).
Now, 20 home runs doesn’t sound like much, yet the Rays were tied for fifth with the Orioles for the most home runs out of the DH spot. The Red Sox, with 35, were the only team with more than 25 home runs.
Scott’s eight homers aside, Myers was the most productive DH on the team, batting .277 with three home runs, 13 RBIs, a .358 on-base percentage and a. 511 slugging percentage in 53 plate appearances.
Joyce hit .155 with two home runs and five RBIs as a DH last season, but he did draw 10 walks in 70 plate appearances.
Neither Jennings nor DeJesus were among the 15 to DH for the Rays in 2013. Jennings has one hit in four career at-bats as a DH. DeJesus has six, including two doubles, in 17 career at-bats.
Mum’s the word
Aside from commenting on next year’s closer and DH scenario, Friedman gave his usual vague responses when pressed on other matters — first base, trades, potential free agent targets. Other GMs actually mentioned names when talking about their offseason needs.
Friedman offered this reason:
“Generally speaking, our public stance has always been to not have much of a public stance, because we have to be open-minded to the different things that come up, whether that’s a free agent, whether that’s a trade. I think the one thing that we do relatively well is we don’t have any hard and fast rules, and so it’s hard to make definitive statements early in the winter.”
Work in progress
Being named the AL rookie of the year was a big honor for Myers, but he acknowledged after winning the award that his game still needs plenty of work.
“I think obviously I need to work on my defense,” he said. “I need to work on my routes that I take. I need to work on my arm strength. I want to work on my speed. And then there’s some little things hitting in my mechanics that I want to be able to fix when I feel them go wrong throughout the season.”
With bench coach Davey Martinez no longer a candidate for any managerial openings, the Rays will return their entire coaching staff, signing them each to two-year contracts. The deals expire after the 2015 season, which is when Maddon’s contract expires ... Matt Quatraro, who was drafted by the Rays in 1996 and worked for the organization as a minor-league manager, hitting coordinator and catching instructor, was hired by the Indians as an assistant hitting coach.