Update (12:03 a.m.): Marc Topkin reports that Figueroa is flying to meet the team in Los Angeles in case the Rays decide to put Zobrist on the DL.
The Tampa Bay Rays always emphasize putting together an abundance of major league caliber depth. We are now likely to see that depth tested. Ben Zobrist dislocated his thumb in Wednesday’s game against the Seattle Mariners while sliding into second base, and a DL trip seems likely. Cole Figueroa has been pulled from the Triple-A lineup tonight, meaning he is Zobrist’s likely replacement if a DL trip is indeed necessary.
Losing Zobrist for any amount of time is a huge blow to the Rays. A cornerstone of their lineup since he established himself as an everyday player in 2009, Zobrist is hitting .258/.352/.364 so far this season. His power may not be what it used to be, but he still provides great offensive value thanks to his ability to draw walks. Even more valuable though is his ability to play every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher. He has spent a majority of his time at second base this season, but he had also seen time in left field and at shortstop. So not only are the Rays losing a key part of their lineup and their starting second baseman, but also a reserve outfielder and their backup shortstop. Even if he miraculously avoids a DL stint and just misses a few games, the impact he creates cannot be replaced.
In Figueroa, the Rays would be getting a Zobrist lite. Figueroa has seen time at shortstop, third base, second base, and both corner outfield spots in the last two seasons. He may not be quite the defender that Zobrist is, but he still provides stellar defense year in and year out. The biggest reason that the 27-year old has not seen big league time yet is his lack of power. He makes good contact and draws plenty of walks, but has never hit the ball with much authority. This year has been a different case though, as he has shown much more power by slashing a .292/.367/.462 line. That high of a slugging percentage is likely not going to become normal for Figueroa, but it is a vast improvement over his career .395 mark. Zobrist can’t be replaced, but at least Figueroa can bring a similar skill set if he is indeed called upon.
Things have not been going the Rays way this year, and it seems that’s going to continue with Ben Zobrist likely headed to the DL. The Rays will never be able to replicate what Zobrist brings to the field every day, but Cole Figueroa sure can come close to doing so. This is just another road block in what has been a tough season. Let’s just hope the Rays can use it as motivation rather than let it get to their heads.