Luke Scott is set to start a rehab assignment with the Charlotte Stone Crabs on Friday.
A few weeks ago, there were multiple options for Scott to replace on the active roster. But a lot has changed in a weeks. Ryan Roberts, Sam Fuld, and Evan Longoria have already replaced players like Brooks Conrad, Will Rhymes, and Hideki Matsui; leaving the Rays’ decision makers with a tough choice. Barring injury, a current member of the 25-man roster will have to be removed to make room for Scott; even if the team uses the maximum 20 days for his rehab.
Aside from injuries, the team could open space with a trade or exposing a player to waivers; however, it is likely the roster spot will come from some with a remaining minor-league option. Here are the eligible players:
Let’s assume the Rays will continue to carry a 12-man pitching staff, eliminating pitchers from the conversation. We are left with:
We know Longoria and Jennings are not going to be optioned, leaving Sean Rodriguez and Ryan Roberts. Both players bat right-handed and primarily play the infield. Despite his current production, Roberts is still probably the better offensive player at this stage of their careers. Both are good defenders at second base as well as third, and have some outfield experience. Rodriguez is the only one to play shortstop with the Rays. Beyond Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson was the other member of the active roster who has started at shortstop this season, at least until Thursday, when Ben Zobrist returned to the position for the first time since 2009.
With everyone focused on Evan Longoria and third base, Joe Maddon has been running a covert operation by having Zobrist take grounders at his old position. It is unlikely he returns to the position full-time, but as a part-time alternative, Zobrist, the shortstop, gives Maddon additional lineup and defensive flexibility, bringing us back to Roberts and Rodriguez.
If Zobrist can handle shortstop a few times a week–likely starting with flyballers Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson on the mound–Rodriguez’s value takes a huge hit. Zobrist at shortstop would allow Maddon to use players like Jeff Keppinger and Roberts at the same time without removing Longoria from the designated hitter role. With Roberts as a steadier offensive performer, and likely the better defender at third base, Rodriguez could find himself returning to the minor leagues on a temporary basis.
Seeing as how we are coming up on the September roster expansion, it would seem like a waste of assets to use an option for Rodriguez for a few weeks time. That said, as long as he does not spent 20 days in the minor leagues, there will be no charge of an option year. Unless Scott returns this weekend, the Rays should be clear of burning an option regardless of the player chosen.
Another factor to consider is playoff roster. To be eligible for the postseason, a player must be on the active roster before September 1st. However, as we have see in the past, players not called up prior to the first can still be added in place of players on the disabled list. Currently, the Rays have Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer on the major-league disabled list. This means Tampa Bay can request two roster exemptions for players called up after the deadline, allowing them to manipulate the roster rules without losing a potential piece of the playoff roster in the process.
In other words, business as usual for the Rays.