ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays didn’t get to see that much of Matt Duffy as he was sidelined by injuries during much of his 3 ½ seasons with them. Wednesday, the Rays decided they had seen enough.
Duffy was designated for assignment as the Rays created space to add five prospects to their 40-man roster in advance of the upcoming Rule 5 draft. To open another spot, pitcher Jose De Leon was traded to the Reds for a player to be named and cash.
Prospects added were catcher Ronaldo Hernandez and infielders Vidal Brujan, Jake Cronenworth, Lucius Fox and Kevin Padlo. A potential sixth addition, lefty Cristopher Sanchez, was traded to the Phillies for minor-league infielder Curtis Mead, an Australian.
Duffy, 28, played in only 46 games after opening this past season on the injured list with a hamstring injury, hitting .252 with one homer, 12 RBIs and a .670 OPS.
He missed all of 2017, and part of 2016 after being acquired Aug. 1 from the Giants, with a heel issue. Overall, Duffy played in only 199 of a possible 544 games with the Rays.
“Wish that his health and his time with us would have gone different in that regard and we could have had him on the field more,’’ Rays GM Erik Neander said. “He really is a special player and there’s the obvious stuff you can measure in how he impacts a game. His intangibles, his leadership, his influence on a younger impressionable clubhouse like we have is worth a lot. And that especially made this a very difficult decision and we’ll certainly miss him in that regard.’’
Duffy, despite the time sidelined, was projected to make $2.9 million in arbitration, a raise from the $2.675 million he made in 2019. Neander said they felt they had other and better options at third base that squeezed Duffy out of the plans, with Yandy Diaz likely to get the bulk of the playing time and Daniel Robertson, Mike Brosseau and lefty hitter Joey Wendle among other candidates.
“Where things were headed for (Duffy) and our alternatives, we just felt we were going to be better served going with some of the other right-handed hitting infielders we have,’’ Neander said.
And once they did, and after exploring trade options unsucessfully, Neander said they decided to make the move now, allowing them to get the roster spot and Duffy a head start on finding a new home, rather than waiting for the Dec. 2 tender deadline. The Rays have seven days to trade or release Duffy. They a similar move last off-season with C.J. Cron, who ended up claimed by the Twins.
“Once we got to the point of knowing what we were going to do we wanted to do what we thought was in the best interest of Duffy to get him out there and help him find the next opportunity,’’ Neander said.
De Leon, 27, was highly touted after being acquired from the Dodgers (for Logan Forsythe) in January 2017, but pitched in only one game for the Rays that season, then missed all of 2018 and the first half of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery, making it back to pitch in four big-league games.
It seemed somewhat unusual for the pitching-rich Rays to add five position players, but Neander said that was a product of where they were organizationally and gives them better balance going into 2020 when active rosters are expanded to 26.
Here is a rundown on the additions:
Brujan, 21: Speed is the top tool for the switch-hitting middle infielder, who hit .277 with four homers, 40 RBIs, 56 runs, 48 steals and a .735 OPS in 99 games between advanced Class A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. He is ranked the Rays No. 3 prospect by mlbpipeline.com and No. 4 by Baseball America. Splitting 2018 between Class A Bowling Green and Charlotte, Brujan stole 55 bases and scored 112 runs in 122 games while hitting .320 with nine homers, 53 RBIs and an .862 OPS. Brujan played 22 games in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .256 with two homers, 10 RBIs and an .843 OPS.
Cronenworth, 25: Was named MVP for Triple-A Durham after hitting .334 with 10 homers, 45 RBIs and a .949 OPS in 88 games playing mostly shortstop, and also showed his versatility pitching in seven games, clocking as high as 97. Will continue to work as a two-way player in 2020. Doesn’t get much attention on the prospect lists - No. 17 among the Rays per mlbpipeline.com - but has shown he has the tools and is ready and able to play in the big leagues.
Fox, 23: Acquired with Matt Duffy in the August 2016 Matt Moore trade to the Giants, the athletic switch-hitting shortstop has moved steadily through the Rays system. Ranked No. 19 among Rays by mlbpipeline.com. Spent most of 2019 at Double-A Montgomery, hitting .230 with three homers, 33 RBIs and a .657 OPS, and struggling during a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Durham, hitting .143 with 15 strikeouts in 42 at-bats. He did steal a career-high 39 bases and limited his errors to 17.
Hernandez, 22: Is the top catching prospect in the organization, ranked No. 7 among all Rays by mlbpipeline.com and No. 8 by Baseball America and earning selection to the All-Star Futures Game. Has power, though took a step back offensively in 2019 as he moved up from Class A Bowling Green to Charlotte, hitting .265 with nine homers, 60 RBIs and a .696 OPS. With the Hot Rods in 2018 he hit .281 with 21 homers , 79 RBIs and a .696 OPS. Has improved defensively since conversion to catching and has a strong arm.
Padlo, 23: Acquired from Rockies with Corey Dickerson in January 2016 trade and has grown into a powerful right-handed hititng corner infielder. Split 2019 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, hitting .265 with 21 homers, 62 RBIs and a .927 OPS. Had a 1.240 OPS vs. lefty pitchers, which increases his value to the Rays.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.