Yesterday I asked Marc Normandin about his thoughts on the Rays' middle infield in comparison to the rest of the American League East, and while in the past he's told me he considers Bartlett a "decent option" I realized that Julio Lugo is the best shortstop this franchise has ever had. I wasn't oblivious that Lugo was better than the likes of Kevin Stocker and Chris Gomez, but I never truly considered that Lugo and his career 88 OPS+ would ever be amongst the best at any position.
While we can sit here and dream about Reid Brignac fulfilling his Cajun God nickname and not becoming merely the Cajun Prophet I'd rather compare Jason Bartlett to Lugo. As it turns it the two are a lot more similar than expected.
Lugo was of course released by the Houston Astros following domestic abuse charges - later dropped - as a 27 year old in 2003. In undoubtedly one of Chuck LaMar's wiser moves the Rays quickly swiped him up and saw him go from .246/.338/.292 to .275/.333/.427 with the Rays. Lugo would spend the next two and a half seasons in Tampa and hit for OPS+ over 90 for his entire time here, including a career best 124 in 2006 before being traded to the Dodgers on July 31st for Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza.
After entering the 2006/2007 off-season as a free agent and signing with the Boston Red Sox reports came out that the Rays were willing to match the salary the Sox gave to Lugo pre-deadline, but Lugo insisted on a no-trade clause - something the Rays "don't do." Despite Lugo's excitement about being on a playoff contender and eventual World Series champion he'd struggle in Boston to .237/.294/.349, although in fairness to Lugo he posted a .728 OPS in the second half and was unlucky the entire season, seeing a .290 xBABIP turn into a .265 BABIP.
Bartlett is 28 and was acquired by the Twins from the Padres for a former Ray - Brian Buchanan - after being drafted in 2001 from Oklahoma University. In 2005 Bartlett would hit .241/.316/.335 In his first real exposure to the majors, in 2006 those numbers would raise to .309/.367/.393 before falling again last year to .265/.339/.361 while suffering from neck and shoulder injuries as well as, you guessed it, bad luck at the plate: .301 BABIP, .321 xBABIP.
Defensively the Fielding Bible doesn't have Julio Lugo listed amongst either the best or worst at shortstop defense, but Bartlett ranks second - only to new Twins shortstop Adam Everett, and while no defensive stat should be looked upon as an end all TFB break down each play through video clip and give a point based on plays made league wide.
Here's a look at the past three year's VORP ranked:
05 Lugo 42.8
06 Lugo 31.3 (with Tampa)
06 Bartlett 16.2
07 Bartlett 14.7
05 Bartlett 1.6
07 Lugo -1.3
It certainly doesn't appear like Bartlett's bat is going to put him ahead of Lugo when everything is said and done, however the Rays could and certainly have done worse when it comes to filling in the shortstop position.