Rays center fielder/left fielder Desmond Jennings could be sidelined as long as eight weeks following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, the Rays announced (Twitter link via Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune). Three to four weeks had been said to be a best case scenario for Jennings, but the Rays are now expecting a return in early or mid-August.
Jennings has been plagued by the knee issue since late April — the last time he appeared in a Major League game. In his absence, Kevin Kiermaier has seen the majority of time in center field, while David DeJesus, Brandon Guyer and Joey Butler have all seen time in left field. Emerging power threat Steven Souza Jr. has been Tampa’s regular right fielder this season.
The Rays have proven to be capable of getting by without Jennings, whose overall production over the past few years has settled more into the “solid regular” category than the star-caliber category that many thought to be attainable. Rays left fielders, in fact, are hitting an excellent .305/.368/.452 on the season, and their center field output (.245/.294/.417) has been passable as well, especially considering Kiermaier’s defensive prowess.
It would seem, then, that the Rays are unlikely to pursue any sort of upgrade in the outfield. The biggest impact that Jennings’ injury has on the trade market may simply be that it further diminishes the possibility of a DeJesus trade. A trade of DeJesus hasn’t seemed likely for quite some time, of course, but many did expect DeJesus to be moved this offseason. The Rays had John Jaso in place as a DH with Jennings, Kiermaier and Souza projected as regulars in the outfield, leaving DeJesus without an apparent starting spot.
Instead, DeJesus has found a good deal of playing time with injuries sidelining both Jennings and Jaso. Not only has he played fairly regularly, but DeJesus has excelled in a platoon role and been one of the Rays’ most productive hitters. He’s already provided enough value in just 147 plate appearances to justify his modest $5MM salary, as he’s hitting an excellent .313/.367/.470 on the season.
As far as Jennings is concerned, he looks to be in line to miss nearly half a season’s worth of plate appearances due to the troublesome knee. That loss of action will serve to suppress his earning potential in arbitration, as he’ll likely be in for a rather modest raise on his $3.1MM salary. While neither of these are perfect comps, Michael Saunders saw his salary jump from $2.3MM to $2.875MM after tallying just 263 PAs last year, and Josh Reddick moved from $2.7MM to $4.1MM after totaling 396 PAs. Barring some form of extension, Jennings will be arb-eligible twice more before becoming a free agent at the end of the 2017 season.