The Rays announced that catcher Francisco Mejía has been reinstated from the injured list and designated for assignment. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported the DFA prior to the official announcement.
Mejia, 27, landed on the injured list about a month ago due to a left knee MCL sprain. He began a rehab assignment just over a week ago but the club evidently didn’t want to bring him back and have cut him loose instead. Since he has more than five years of major league service time, he can no longer be optioned to the minors without his consent.
Once one of the top prospects in the league, Mejía hasn’t been able to live up to the hype at this point. Through 355 career games, he’s hitting .239/.284/.394 for a wRC+ of 87. That includes a fairly similar line of .227/.258/.400 here in 2023. He also hasn’t been graded particularly well on defense, with -3 Defensive Runs Saved so far, as well as negative grades from the framing metrics of FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.
It’s surely not what was expected during his time as a notable youngster, with Baseball America having ranked him as one of the top 35 prospects in the league in three straight years starting in 2017. Originally signed by Cleveland, he went to the Padres in the 2018 Brad Hand trade before being one of four players sent to the Rays in the Blake Snell deal. Though the Rays have a reputation for winning just about every trade they make, this one hasn’t worked out so far. Luis Patiño struggled for years and was recently flipped to the White Sox for cash. The other two players in the deal, Cole Wilcox and Blake Hunt, could still give Tampa something but neither has reached the majors yet.
With Mejía on the injured list of late, the Rays have been using a duo of Christian Bethancourt and René Pinto. The latter has just 37 games of major league experience to this point, but the Rays evidently like the early results enough to ride with him instead of Mejía. Pinto is hitting .276/.300/.379 this year in a small sample of 30 plate appearances. He’s considered a solid defender and has generally performed well at the plate in the minors.
With the trade deadline now past, the Rays will have no choice but to put Mejía on waivers in the coming days. Though he has struggled in his career thus far, he is still young and isn’t too far removed from being a highly-touted prospect. If any club were to put in a claim, they could retain him for one more season via arbitration. Though if Mejía clears, he has enough service time to reject an outright assignment and elect free agency while retaining that remaining salary. In that scenario, the Rays would stay on the hook for the money while Mejia would be free to sign with any club for the prorated league minimum, with that amount subtracted from what the Rays pay.