How Will the Rays Piece Together Second Base Without Ben Zobrist?
The Tampa Bay Rays have needed to cover quite a few positions the few years when their starting players have gotten injured. Evan Longoria went down in 2012, and the Rays use a plethora of players to replace him at third base. Yunel Escobar and Desmond Jennings have missed several games, leaving the Rays to fill shortstop and centerfield respectively in their absences. One position at which the Rays have not had a problem at all, though, has been second base. With Ben Zobrist durable as the starter and the Rays’ infield backups always able to play the keystone when he has manned other spots, the Rays haven’t needed to scramble for a second baseman in a long time. They are not quite scrambling now, but with Zobrist hitting the disabled list for the first time since 2008, the Rays have to figure out how to divide playing time between their remaining options as long as he is out.
The Rays currently have three players on the roster capable of second base: Sean Rodriguez, Logan Forsythe, and newcomer Cole Figueroa. Against lefties, the Rays will enter the arrangement that they have done when Zobrist has gotten a day off, with Rodriguez, Forsythe, and Brandon Guyer all entering the lineup and either Rodriguez or Forsythe at second base. Forsythe and Guyer have struggled thus far in 2014, but with Rodriguez and them all possessing a good pedigree against left-handed pitching, they have the ability to make up for Zobrist’s production for the most part if they can starting hitting their strides. If one of them struggles, however, would the Rays be willing to go to Figueroa? Figueroa is a left-handed hitter, but he has shown no platoon split at all, managing a .767 OPS against lefties and a .761 mark against righties the last four years. At the very least, Figueroa assures the Rays that they will not have to be locked in to Rodriguez, Forsythe, and Guyer for better or worse.
When the Rays face a righty pitcher, their decision-making process will become more complicated. Forsythe has struggled immensely against right-handed pitching in the major leagues, and Rodriguez has not been much better. Of the two, Rodriguez is likely to get the nod more often because he has much better numbers than Forsythe overall and a serviceable .667 OPS against righties this season. Rodriguez has swung a hot bat recently, and if he can play anywhere near as well against righties as he has against lefties, he could become close to an everyday player while Zobrist is gone. If he does not, however, Figueroa could very well get some starts. The platoon advantage gives him a clear leg up. However, Figueroa provides a lot of value when he does not start as a lefty bat off the bench. The Rays have had an issue all season because with David DeJesus and Matt Joyce in the lineup against righties, they have not had a lefty bat to pinch-hit late in games. Now they finally have such an option, and they will be excited to utilize it quite often.
The Rays are not in an ideal situation with Ben Zobrist out, but they have three players in Sean Rodriguez, Logan Forsythe, and Cole Figueroa who have potential to carry the load. It is a luxury for them to have options to mix and match, and with any luck, Zobrist’s DL stint will not be as costly to the Rays offense as it would appear.