How Ryan Roberts Fits The Rays' Needs

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 27: Ryan Roberts #14 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a seventh inning home run against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 27, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The newly-acquired INF Ryan Roberts matches a number of needs for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Tampa Bay Rays acquired INF Ryan Roberts on Tuesday night, adding yet another name to their swirling carousel of infielders. But how does Roberts -- nicknamed "Tatman" for his impressive array of body ink -- fit into the Rays roster?

The answer is: A couple of ways.

Roberts plays both second base and third base, and reports and advanced statistics indicate he plays them well. He also is a high contact hitter who can knock homers and steal bases. His on-base percentage has slipped considerably in 2012, but he is still showing some power -- and speed -- in his age 31 season.

His .250/.330/.398 career slash may not impress, but compared to what they have gotten out of their recent third base play, it's rather impressive. Here is what they have received offensively from the seven players to play third in 2012:

1 Evan Longoria 23 97 4 2 3 .329 .433 .561 .994 .377
2 Jeff Keppinger 23 86 1 0 0 .366 .465 .493 .958 .368
3 Drew Sutton 9 34 0 0 0 .281 .324 .313 .636 .375
4 Sean Rodriguez 30 93 2 1 0 .221 .256 .360 .616 .258
5 Will Rhymes 12 37 0 0 0 .212 .270 .273 .543 .233
6 Elliot Johnson 2 7 0 0 0 .167 .286 .167 .452 .333
7 Brooks Conrad 10 34 0 0 0 .125 .176 .188 .364 .267
Team Total 96 388 7 3 3 .272 .348 .404 .752 .322

Basically, INF Jeff Keppinger and 3B Evan Longoria have crushed the ball, everyone else has scuttled like a blind fiddler crab.

So Roberts can provide a little offense while Evan Longoria is away -- allowing Keppinger to play at second and first as needed. Both Keppinger and Roberts excel against left-handed pitching, which is good because the left-hand likes of 1B Carlos Pena, DH Luke Scott and OF Matt Joyce struggle against LHP.

He also does well against fly ball pitchers -- being a high-contact hitter who doesn't necessarily work counts like Pena, Joyce and 2B/RF Ben Zobrist, but does a great job of fouling balls off and directing the ball all over the field. On his career, he has a .235/.334/.413 slash with a .747 OPS against fly ball pitchers. This season, the Rays as a team have hit only .209/.290/.356 with a .646 OPS against fly ball pitchers.

The only major drawbacks for the Roberts trade are: (1) the prospect the Rays trade to get him, 2B Tyler Bortnick, could be a starter someday, but that's still a ways away and not a sure thing, but (2) more importantly, Roberts will not be cheap for long. He's making over $2 million this season and -- if he has a good year at the plate or works his way into a starting role -- he could be in line for some considerable raises over the next three seasons.

Odds are, if he does well, the Rays will trade him in the offseason or midway through 2013 -- by that time, SS Tim Beckham or SS Hak-Ju Lee might be ready to play in the majors, giving the Rays a sudden glut of infield talent.

But if he struggles or just maintains his current level of play while on the bench, the team could conceivably afford him for a few more years.

In the end though, Roberts is a great fit -- and a relatively cheap acquisition -- for a Rays team still very much in the hunt for the 2012 MLB Playoffs.

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