Sean Rodriguez: Most Valuable Sub

By Peter M. Gordon

Oct 4, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Sean Rodriguez (1) celebrates with teammate James Loney (21) after hitting a home run during the second inning in game one of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Bill James once wrote most bad teams have a few players as good as anyone on the good teams. Great teams have above-average players at almost every position, and substitutes and role players who are better than starters on the bad teams. The Boston Red Sox in 2013, for example, could bring players like Mike Carp and Xander Bogaerts off the bench. As the Rays hope to construct a roster meeting the same criterea, Sean Rodriguez will be right in the thick of things.

If the season started today, Rodriguez would be one of the Rays’ most active bench players. He’s the right handed hitter who will be one of the players platooning in left with David DeJesus, spell James Loney at first against tough left handers, DH when necessary, and back up second, short, and third. The Rays paid him $1 million for those chores in 2013. That’s a lot of money to the average person, but still well below the average major league salary of $3.4 million.

The Rays obtained Rodriguez from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade on August 31, 2009. Joe Maddon got to know Rodriguez when he was tearing up the Angels’ farm system, and liked his versatility and attitude. During his four years with the Rays his batting averages ranged from .216 to .251, which is not surprising for a part-time player. After a down hitting year in 2012, Rodriguez bounced back in 2013 with an average of .246 and a .320 on base percentage. He held up his end of a right handed platoon with a .264 average against left handed starters and a .341 on base percentage. Rodriguez played left field, right field, first base, second base, shortstop, and DH. He also had a flair for the dramatic, powering a home run over the Green Monster in the first game of the ALCS. Rodriguez’s versatility and affordability make him particularly valuable to the economically challenged Rays. While there may be better hitting back up infielders than Rodriguez, they all would come with a much higher price tag.

Joe Maddon likes to rewrite his lineup a lot. Players like Sean Rodriguez (and of course Ben Zobrist) enable him to do that. While it’s tempting to hope that the Rays will be able to upgrade every position, the reality is that they’re unlikely to find someone as good as Rodriguez for the same money. Given the amount of money the Rays are spending on James Loney (and hopefully on David Price) the team will once again depend on Sean Rodriguez to make a key contribution in 2014.