ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A blue Chicago Cubs duffle bag was placed near David DeJesus’ locker Friday afternoon at Tropicana Field, more proof that this has been a whirlwind week. Later, he spoke of the past five days as being “crazy” and “up and down,” appropriate terms but minor prices to pay for what the Tampa Bay Rays hope leads to valuable depth.
The Rays acquired DeJesus from the Washington Nationals on Friday, after the Nationals acquired him from the Cubs on Monday. He was in bed in Kansas City late in the morning, where the Nationals were set to begin a three-game series, when he received the call from Washington general manager Mike Rizzo informing him that he was moving yet again.
Advantage, Tampa Bay.
“It’s exciting,” DeJesus said late Friday afternoon, standing near the home dugout at his latest destination. “These guys play the game the right way. When you play against the Rays, you’ve got to make sure every out is staying accounted for because they come at you. … ‘Keep being yourself.’ I’ve heard it four or five times already. Just go out there and play the game the right way.
“I think we’ll be a good fit.”
Tampa Bay hopes so, and along with the signing of outfielder/designated hitter Delmon Young to a minor-league deal Thursday, the Rays’ plan for September has come into shape: Do not become satisfied with what is already a potent roster, instead look for areas to build strength for a 37-game stretch with much at stake atop the American League East.
DeJesus’ signing, in particular, is a sign of how aggressive the Rays are willing to be. The 33-year-old outfielder is a .279 career hitter on whom Tampa Bay has kept a close watch since his early days with the Kansas City Royals.
DeJesus’ addition adds another dimension to the Rays’ profile. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay’s executive vice present of baseball operations, was bold enough to say, “This is arguably the deepest roster we’ve ever had.”
The case can be made. DeJesus, who has hit .247 in 87 games this season, will play frequently against right-handed pitching and can appear in all outfield positions. His addition means a chance to give manager Joe Maddon flexibility in offering rest to others like Wil Myers, who was out of the lineup Friday as DeJesus made his debut in left field.
“I felt like this roster had less obvious holes than other times,” Friedman said. “I think it’s more happenstance. I think in years past we’ve tried to make certain moves that haven’t lined up. In some years, (we’ve) probably been even more aggressive than we’ve been this year. So I think it just requires a perfect storm of things to line up to be able to complete a deal.”
With the wild card format’s change, there is clear incentive to make deals happen that will win the division. The Boston Red Sox, who held a one-game lead before Friday, revealed as much when they bolstered their rotation by trading for right-hander Jake Peavy on July 31. The Rays’ acquisitions of DeJesus and Young, a No. 1 pick by the Rays in the 2003 draft, are further proof that the urgency runs high in Boston and along Florida’s Sun Coast.
Late August is no time to be modest, especially for contenders. Why settle when you can be greedy?
The savviest moves, as well as the best-executed plans, will be rewarded. The prize: A detour past the win-or-go-home wild card game.
Maddon and Friedman understand this. The “perfect storm” that Friedman describes is Tampa Bay’s recognition of the need to be active, to avoid passivity even with their current riches. DeJesus, who hung out with Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez on Thursday night thinking he would do the same Friday, became an unsuspecting chess piece in this strategy. Life can change fast.
For Tampa Bay, opportunity presented itself. It was wise for the Rays to react, especially with a brutal 37-games-in-38-days sprint to come.
“Having a DeJesus and a Delmon augmented with what we’ve already got, that’s pretty good stuff right there,” Maddon said. “The bench will be very thick on a nightly basis. My biggest concern is guys not being tired and guys being healthy. We’ve got to be really on top of that.”
The Rays made a move in the right direction by signing DeJesus. At some point, possibly early September, Young will be available as well.
That is how quickly the landscape can shift for a contender thinking past August, into September and beyond. Sometime Friday, DeJesus thought back to telling Gonzalez, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” before the two departed the night before.
“Then I texted him, ‘I won’t see you tomorrow,’ ” DeJesus said, a chance to contend for the AL East before him.