Aside from effecting a direct competitor’s roster, the news of Juan Rivera being designated for assignment should catch the Rays’ attention for another reason – adding Rivera to the mix. Since tying a career-high with 50 extra-base hits in 2009, the 33-year-old has hit just .250/.311/.392 over the last two seasons (726 plate appearances). While his most productive days appear to be over, Rivera does have a skill-set that could fill a current void on the Tampa Bay roster.
Despite the overall struggles of the past two seasons, Rivera can still do one thing pretty well and that is hit left-handed pitching. In just over 1,000 career plate appearances against southpaws, the right-hander has hit .292/.339/.502. Over the past two years, he is hitting .285/.388/.419 against them including .346/.426/.538 in a small sample size of 61 plate appearances this season.
Rivera still has the ability to stand in the outfield, but that would not be needed here. That said, he can play some first base as well as serve as a designated hitter. Looking at the 25-man roster of the Rays, there are no true right-handed backups at either of those positions. Left-handed batters Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman have served as full-time players despite negative productive against the platoon split.
Damon’s career splits shows he is a rather neutral hitter. He owns a career .338 weighted on-base average (wOBA) against lefties, but that has dipped to a career low .300 this season (93 plate appearances). Kotchman, on the other hand, is hitting .292 against left-handed pitchers in 2011 (48 plate appearances); however, he is doing little damage elsewise (.284 wOBA) and has historically struggled against southpaws with a slash line of .258/.314/.342 (.292 wOBA). A player like Rivera could spell serve as the right-handed DH or start at first base and later be replaced for defensive purposes once he has taken his hacks against the left-handed starter.
Like every other transaction, it is all about cost. Recently, Stu Sternberg said the team could add payroll if an opportunity presented itself. With a little less than half a season remaining, Rivera is owed just over $2.5 million for the rest of 2011. He is a free agent at the end of the season and does not project to be a Type A or B free agent. His remaining salary may be a little bit much for a platoon player; however, there may not be much available in the Rays’ price range come July 31. Rivera could also refuse the assignment and become a free agent; however, he would forfeit his remaining salary which does not sound like a wise financial move for him.
It is unknown if the Rays currently hold any interest in Rivera right now. On the other hand, there was rumored interest in Rivera after the 2008 season. Instead, Tampa Bay settled on Pat Burrell after Rivera signed a three-year, $12.75 million with the Los Angeles Angels. He was acquired by the Blue Jays in the Vernon Wells trade this offseason. Given the team’s current need for a right-handed bat at both DH and first base, perhaps their interest could be piqued once again.