Could the Rays Consider Dealing Sean Rodriguez?
By Robbie Knopf
Sean Rodriguez is not the player he used to be. In 2013, Rodriguez made 47 of his 56 starts between left field and first base, emerging as a steady platoon bat for the Rays to spell lefty bats Matt Joyce and James Loney. Rodriguez had arguably his best offensive season, managing a .246/.320/.385 line (98 OPS+), and he was a valuable player for the Rays into the postseason. Rodriguez’s strength has always been hitting left-handed pitching, and becoming a part-time player making almost all of his starts against lefties certainly helped his performance. But even as Rodriguez had a solid year, it was just so strange. Wait a second–isn’t this guy supposed to be a utilityman?
In 2010, Rodriguez was the Rays’ primary second baseman, and both 2011 and 2012 saw him spend plenty of time at shortstop as well. How does a player who had been a middle infielder his entire career end up as a first baseman and left fielder like a far inferior defensive player? The reason was simple: that was what the Rays needed him to be. The arrival of Yunel Escobar effectively ended Rodriguez’s time at shortstop, and Ben Zobrist settled down at second base. Kelly Johnson proved to be a solid defender at third base when Evan Longoria played designated hitter, and suddenly Rodriguez was stuck at left field and first base. To his credit, it didn’t phase him as he had a strong season. However, it is impossible to say that the Rays used him in the most efficient matter.
Sean Rodriguez can hit left-handed pitching, but he is not exceptional at doing so. His OPS against lefties was .745, which amounts to a 101 sOPS+. He was average as a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching, and he was actually a tick below-average factoring in the positions he played. Where Rodriguez really stands out is how he is capable of hitting left-handed pitching as a middle infielder. Less is expected offensively at those positions, and having an average hitter at one of those positions means a lot more. The fact that the Rays are not him like that is a major waste. Rodriguez was a dcent platoon bat, but right-handed hitting left fielders and first baseman are not so hard to find. Brandon Guyer is an internal option and the Rays could always sign someone else. With that in mind, Rodriguez has more value on the Rays compared to another team that would play him in the middle infield spots. If they receive a trade offer that reflects that difference between his actual value and his value on the Rays’ current roster, they should trade him.
The Rays may finally have a suitor. Joe Frisaro of MLB.com reported that the Miami Marlins have reportedly talked about Rodriguez as an option to start for them at third base until 2013 first rounder Colin Moran is ready. Viewing Rodriguez as a starting third baseman may be a little bit of a stretch, but maybe not quite as crazy as it sounds. In 2010 and 2011, Rodriguez started for the Rays at the middle infield spots and was an above-average player between strong defense and success against lefties that help balance out his struggles against righties in his overall numbers. Third base is a more offensively-demanding position, but if the Marlins believe that Rodriguez is a plus defender at the position, he could be a solid regular. In his time at the position in 2012, Rodriguez showed spectacular range and the flair for the dramatic play although a weaker arm than we usually see at the hot corner arm occasionally gave him problems with errors. If the Marlins see room for improvement as he plays there more (he has started just 46 games there in the major leagues), maybe having Rodriguez at third base could lead to positive results.
Frisaro mentioned Rodriguez as a possible piece in a Logan Morrison trade, and while Morrison undoubtedly carries more value, Rodriguez and a prospect could get the deal done. If the Marlins would be open to such a trade, it is hard to see the Rays backing away. Rodriguez has his talents, and they are prepared to keep him in his 2013 role for next season as well, but trading him to a team valuing him for the entire range of his abilities could be a more prudent decision. Then we have to think about Rodriguez himself. Sean Rodriguez is a middle infielder. With playing there seemingly an impossibility for him in a Rays uniform, moving on to another franchise could be the best thing for his career.