HOUSTON - MAY 21: Reid Brignac #15 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws his bat after striking out in the eighth inning with two runners on against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 21, 2010 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Baseball is full of arguments, many that have multiple answers that just lead to more people joining in the argument. There are very few things about baseball that cannot be argued. One of those things is the sad state of the Rays shortstop position. I would venture to say that there is no one out there that would argue that the Rays have had good performance out of the shortstop position this season. Anyone disagree? I didn't think so.
Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson, the Rays main shortstops on the season, have been exactly replacement level, posting 0.0 Wins Above Replacement Level Player according to fWAR. That is tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the third lowest team total in the Majors and only the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds are below replacement level.
These two Rays shortstops lead the league with a 27.7% strikeout rate and are dead last in each of the triple-slash categories, posting a Rafael Belliard like .192/.241/.258 mark and a wRC+ of 36. That's right, 36! The only bright spots are that the Rays shortstops can actually play defense and are fourth in the league with a +5.4 UZR and that manager Joe Maddon usually bats his shortstops at the bottom of the lineup then pinch-hits for them late in games. The Rays shortstops have accumulated the lowest total of plate appearances of any team. Maddon knows where the weaknesses lay and he has done a good job of limiting what could be even worse production. So, what do the Rays do about the position?
Brignac is not cutting it. He carries the bulk of the negative value with -0.6 fWAR. Only Dan Johnson has a lower total and he hasn't been with the team since mid-May. While Brignac does carry a +1.6 UZR his 15 wRC+ is the worst in the Majors by a lot. Brignac may need to go to Triple-A.
Elliot Johnson has been worth +0.6 fWAR and has better number across the board than Brignac but is he really an everyday player? His +3.6 UZR is carrying his value while his 73 wRC+ is dragging it down but he does have a decent track record of good offensive production in the minors. Oh, but if I have to see him bunt anymore I may just pull my hair out. But, right now, he is the better of the two current shortstops.
Speaking of good minor league offensive production, what about Sean Rodriguez? He hasn't been given a real chance to play daily but can he play a passable shortstop over an extended period of time? He has only played 83.1 innings there this season and, well, has been pretty bad and it's not as if his bat has been holding it's own this season but it has been better than both Brignac (obviously) and Johnson's.
Durham holds no real options with Ray Olmeda and J.J. Furmaniak being the best options. Yikes! If the Rays try and find the solution to this problem within their own organization the only thing that makes sense at this point is to send Brignac to Triple-A and give Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez the shortstop job.
The last option, and scariest one, is making a trade. With few available shortstops out there worth grabbing the one that keeps coming to mind is Jose Reyes. The Rays do not usually trade mid-season for a star that will walk in the offseason but if they are serious about winning this season this may be their best option. Victor Wang has calculated a dollar value on prospects so that we can come to better conclusions on who we can expect to be involved in trades. With Type-A compensation being worth $5.5M and Reyes having roughly $13M worth of production left we can safely say the Rays will need to trade one of Baseball America's top 51-75 hitting prospects or a top 26-50 pitching prospect.
I think we can all agree that Matt Moore is on the Rays no-trade list. But would the Rays consider trading a package centered around Hak-Ju Lee for four months of Reyes? What if the asking price is higher because the market demands it? Do the Rays feel safe offering a package centered around Desmond Jennings? Would a deep package of prospects rather than a high end prospect be enough? Would the Rays be willing to take on the money? What if the Mets want to include Carlos Beltran in any trade involving Reyes? Would the Mets take lesser prospects? Would a package of Alex Torres, Kyle Lobstein, Tim Beckham, and B.J. Upton be close to enough? Would the Rays take on the financial costs?
There are a lot of questions surrounding a potential trade for Reyes. If I ran the Rays I would do what I could to get Reyes outside of trading Matt Moore or one of the established young players already on the team not named B.J. Upton. The Rays need a major improvement at shortstop and that does not seem likely to come from within. Reyes is more than a shortstop, he is the most valuable one this season and provides the Rays with the perfect leadoff hitter as they make a push for a playoff spot in the American League. Do they stick with what they have or make a strong push for Reyes? I hope it's the latter.