The shortstop position, while weak across baseball, has been especially bad in Tampa Bay this season. The Rays' collective wOBA of .257 from short is second only to the Braves in terms of futility. To put it in perspective, the league average wOBA for shortstops this season is .303, with the Rockies coming in on top at .384.
Since Reid Brignac was demoted on July 23rd the Rays have essentially handed the shortstop job over to Sean Rodriguez; giving him an opportunity for a full time job for the first time in Tampa Bay. He still struggles mightily against right handed pitching, putting up a triple slash line of .174/.246/.263 in 186 plate appearances this season. Compare that with his line of .289/.396/.533 against left handed pitching in 106 plate appearances and it's almost not believable. Against one hand he's Neifi Perez, against the other he's Matt Holliday. More than likely each of those figures are the result of small sample size as his OPS against RHP and LHP last year were .642 and .817 respectively. Those numbers seem more in line with what we should expect from Rodriguez. Currently he has a .296 wOBA which puts him a touch below league average. Considering that half of the teams in baseball have a sub .300 wOBA from their shortstops Rodriguez doesn't look so bad.
The Rays have two of the best shortstop prospects in baseball in Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee, but neither will be ready to begin next season at the Major League level. So, the question becomes what do the Rays do for 2012? Here are the possible options, barring any trade.
Give him the starting job, bury him down in the lineup and hope he can be league average with the bat. He'll be cheap -- around $450k -- and can provide power from time to time. He hasn't hit well since he was given full time duty in July, but his defense has looked good considering it's a new position.
In 200 plate appearances this season he was terrible. His .207 wOBA is the lowest in baseball among players with at least 200 PA's. Last season he put up a .300 wOBA, which was respectively average for the position. He's hitting better, but not great, at Triple-A Durham. He'll be 26 to open next season, and like Rodriguez is signed to a cheap contract. He surely has his doubters in this area, but it's my opinion that he could be league average with the bat as well as above average with the glove.
If Brignac can regain some form and hit right handed pithching like he did last season (.706 OPS) then a platoon with Rodriguez seems like an ideal fit. Since Rodriguez can play multiple positions (2B, 1B, 3B, LF, RF) it almost seems like a waste to limit him to just one -- his bat isn't that good. This is dependant on Brignac, though.
None of the 2012 free agent shortstops are appealing. Their they're not talented enough or too expensive. Is the addition of Nick Punto, Omar Infante or Jack Wilson really going to be a substantial upgrade over the in house options?
Unfortunately not every team can be lucky enough to have a Troy Tulowitzki or even a Jimmy Rollins year after year. Getting league average production from shortstop would be a giant upgrade for the Rays. What would you like to see?