Nothing major has happened yet this offseason, but we always hear about the Rays being in discussion to make high profile or even blockbuster trades. B.J. Upton comes up because he has just one year remaining on his contract. And because of the Rays’ deep pitching staff, we’ve heard rumors for James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and even a little bit with Alex Cobb, with Davis and Niemann the most likely to be actually traded. But no matter who gets traded, there’s an obvious thrown-in: Sean Rodriguez. Let me explain.
Rodriguez had mixed results offensively in 2011, posting a .223/.323/.357 line with 20 doubles, 8 homers, 36 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in 131 games. His walk rate was nice, coming in at 8.7% compared to the league average of 7.7%. But he didn’t show much power, he didn’t show much speed, and his 16% line drive percentage among his batted balls according to Baseball-Reference and 17.4% mark from Fangraphs doesn’t inspire confidence that his .268 BAbip which led to his low batting average was a fluke. The only advantage Rodriguez has going offensively is that he was better than Reid Brignac in 2011. But Brignac has a lot more talent than Rodriguez, and the only reason his 2011 season was so horrific was ridiculously bad luck (please see here for more on that). Defensively, Rodriguez’ UZR was 5.2 in 2011 and his FRAA (fielding runs above average from Baseball Prospectus was 1.3). Brignac’s UZR and FRAA were 0.1 and 5.6 respectively. What does that tell us? Well, just from that, it would seem like which one is a better defender is debatable. But Rodriguez’s 5.2 UZR in 2011 came from his time at all 4 infield positions along with left field. Rodriguez was a nice defender at second base and third base, posting 2.0 and 3.7 UZR’s respectively at the two positions. But his UZR was just -0.9 at shorstop. Rodriguez isn’t a good defensive shortstop, the two rating systems agree. Maybe Brignac isn’t elite himself, but he’s at least average defensively at shorstop (I think he’s slightly above-average). Reid Brignac will be better than Rodriguez both offensively and defensively in 2012.
After we understand all that, Rodriguez still has value as a utilityman. Not many players can play 5 positions as well as he does and have some power and speed. But while we know the Rays value players with such versatility, that also plays against Rodriguez. The Rays signed Will Rhymes the other day and they also have Elliot Johnson (and Ben Zobrist) on the big league roster. Not to mention that the next Sean Rodriguez will play at Triple-A Durham in 2012.
Cole Figueroa shares a bunch of things in common with Sean Rodriguez. Both were born in Florida of Hispanic descent: Figueroa in Tallahassee and Rodriguez in Miami. Both were drafted by a California team before ending up with the Rays in a trade for an established player, Figueroa by the Padres before coming over in the Jason Bartlett trade, Rodriguez by the Angels before coming over in the Kazmir trade. Both are natural shortstops who have gradually moved away from the position as they have moved forward as professionals. Now, let’s get to the specifics on Figueroa.
Figueroa, who turns 25 in June, had a very nice first season in the Rays organization in 2011, posting a .283/.375/.398 line in 114 games for Double-A Montgomery with 20 doubles, 6 triples, 5 homers, 51 RBI, and 9 stolen bases in 14 attempts. Figueroa struck out just 41 times, just 8.5% of his plate appearances compared to the league average of 18.7%, while walking 54 times, 11.2% of his plate appearances compared to the league unintentional walk rate of 8.7%. That type of plate discipline is extremely impressive. He made contact on 88.7% of his swings according to Minor League Central, well above the league average of 78.3%. He swung at just 7.3% of pitches thrown against him compared to the league average of 11.1%. And while he doesn’t have very much power, he still swung the bat with some authority. His 18.9% line drive percentage was significantly above the league average of 17.5%. He also happens to be an excellent bunter, sacrificing 11 times in 2011 and bunting for several hits. Figueroa’s speed is slightly above-average, allowing him to beat out some of those bunts and steal an occasional base. While Figueroa’s power is a below average, he’s good at doing what he’s capable of doing with the bat, being a singles hitter with a great eye. Defensively, Figueroa played 58 times at second base, 36 times at third, and 12 times at shortstop, and he was sure handed at all three positions, posting well-above average fielding percentages across the board. His arm is average, but he has nice range and he should be able to everywhere like Zobrist and Rodriguez can.
Figueroa has as good all-around ability than Rodriguez if not better. He trades power and some arm strength for an excellent eye and a better ability to hit for average. Figueroa well never be a starter on a perennially contending team like the Rays, but he will be another valuable super utilityman. And he could be in the big leagues by September.
Sean Rodriguez is becoming a redundant player for the Rays that could be very useful for other team. Look for him to be a throw-in player in any trade the Rays make before the offseason is through.