News came out on Monday that the San Diego Padres have released ex-Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett. Bartlett, 32, appeared in just 29 games for the Padres this season, posting just a .133/.240/.193 line in 98 plate appearances, before going down with a right knee strain that has sidelined him since May 14th. Could Bartlett’s return to the big leagues come with the team with which he had his finest seasons in the majors?
We know that Bartlett isn’t nearly as bad as he was in the 98 plate appearances that he has had this season, but he has clearly dropped up off since his breakout 2009 in which he posted a .320/.389/.490 line (132 OPS+) with 29 doubles, 7 triples, 14 homers, 66 RBI, 30 of 37 stolen bases, and 54 walks against 89 strikeouts in 137 games and 567 plate appearances. Since then, Bartlett has managed just a .242/.310/.317 line, just a 78 OPS+, in 303 games and 1248 plate appearances. He has hit fewer homers (6) and triples (6) than he did in 2009 alone and has stolen just 4 more bases than the 30 he stole in 2009 while getting caught 16 times. And defensively, Bartlett has also lost something, posting a -11.9 UZR from 2010 to 2012 compared to 4.9 from 2007 to 2009 and posting a 5.5 FRAA from 2010 to 2012 compared to 13.6 from 2007 to 2009. The Rays traded Bartlett to San Diego in exchange for Cesar Ramos, Cole Figueroa, Brandon Gomes, and Adam Russell presumably knowing that he was over the hill. Nevertheless, Bartlett can’t be any worse than what the Rays have gotten from Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, and Reid Brignac at shortstop the past two seasons. Could the Rays look to Bartlett as at least a part-time player in September and see what happens from there? The problem with Bartlett as a part-time player is that he really doesn’t have experience anywhere but shortstop. Bartlett has 865 career major league games at shortstop with a grand total of 1 at any other position, a game at second base back in 2004. In the minors, he has 499 career games at SS and just 2 each at second and third base, last playing at either position also in 2004. Bartlett has reached the point in his career where he’s going to have to learn to play other positions to continue playing. But is that something that you really want to do in the middle of the season? The big thing we are leaving out is that Bartlett hasn’t even gotten into any rehab games since his knee injury. The Padres didn’t have any timetable for his return. Also, Bartlett has had some history of trouble with his right knee, missing time during spring training of both 2011 and 2012 because of the knee according to Corey Dawkins of Baseball Prospectus. Is Bartlett going to be ready to begin his rehab anytime soon, let alone appear in big league games? The good news is that the Rays or whichever team signs Bartlett won’t owe him anything other than a prorated version of the league minimum, even if he appears in the big leagues this season, and won’t have any further commitment to him. But even then, it doesn’t look like it makes any sense for the Rays to sign Bartlett. He’s not healthy and even if he was, he’s not the player that he used to be and the Rays don’t have playing time to offer him considering the numbers of infielders they already have on the roster and Bartlett’s lack of versatility. Good luck to Bartlett as he looks to reestablish himself as a big league player following this knee injury. But it appears extremely unlikely that will happen with the Rays.