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Is the Tampa Bay Rays’ Shortstop Situation Really So Bleak?

By Robbie Knopf
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For most baseball teams, it is debatable which of their beat writers is the best. For the Tampa Bay Rays, however, there is no question that it is Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Roger Mooney’s name should also be mentioned, but it is Topkin who delivers most of the breaking news surrounding the team to go along with quite a few interesting articles.

With that in mind, it was quite shocking to me when I read his comments from last Saturday regarding the Tampa Bay Rays’ shortstop situation. I’ll put everything he said right here to allow you to make your own determination about what he is saying before you read my response below.

"The biggest need appears to be for another middle infielder, even after the likely addition of Alexi Casilla, preferably a glove-friendly shortstop. The fallback is to play veteran newcomer Asdrubal Cabrera there, but there is some thought he would be better at second. So expect perennial prospect Tim Beckham to get a long spring look (and Nick Franklin a cursory one) at short unless/until they make a move.The free-agent market for shortstops is depleted, except for Everth Cabrera, who faces an April trial on a resisting arrest charge among other issues. That leaves the Rays looking at making a trade, which could mean grabbing a lesser candidate now (such as a Tyler Pastornicky type, or maybe Brendan Ryan?) or waiting deeper into spring training to see what better options become available. (Absent a great fit, another option could be seeing if the Pirates would trade back Sean Rodriguez, who brings positional versatility and right-handed power.)"

I am not going to argue that the Rays could probably use another middle infielder. Like we just talked about, Franklin could use more time at Triple-A to work on hitting left-handed pitching. However, Franklin is capable enough against righties that the Rays are far from desperate to acquire another middle infielder.

I am really hoping that the last sentence of the first quoted paragraph is a typo. How does it make any sense that Beckham would get a “long” look at shortstop while Franklin only gets a “cursory” one? Franklin is the top prospect who the Rays acquired in the David Price trade and has delivered strong numbers at Triple-A plus a solid big league performance in 2013 with the Mariners.

Beckham, on the other hand, has been far closer to decent than spectacular at Triple-A and is also coming off an injury-riddled season. Franklin is an exponentially better bet to hit at the major league level–it is difficult to project Beckham as anything more than a bench player at this point in time.

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Beckham has played more shortstop than Franklin the last couple of years, but only because Franklin was Seattle’s starting second baseman for a while and because Hak-Ju Lee went on the DL. Both players’ best position in second base, but either of them also have the ability to handle shortstop. Neither will be flashy at the position, but either can be a better defender than Cabrera. At the very least, they can’t be any worse. Given that Franklin is a much better hitter than Beckham, he clearly looks like the Rays’ best shortstop option right now.

Is having Nick Franklin at shortstop the ideal for the Rays right now? Probably not, but he is certainly better than the options that Topkin mentions. Cabrera’s legal issues are obviously troubling and Franklin is a far superior hitter than guys like Pastornicky, Ryan, and Rodriguez. If the Rays are going to acquire a shortstop, it has to legitimate starter, not a bench player like Ryan or Rodriguez or a Quad-A guy like Pastornicky. We will talk about better trade targets starting tomorrow.

If the Tampa Bay Rays begin the season with Nick Franklin as their starting shortstop, that would be fine. They would likely need to slide Cabrera to short against left-handed pitching (with Logan Forsythe at second), but Franklin has the talent to be an above-average hitter for the position while also maintaining good enough defense. With Franklin in the fold, the Rays are far from hopeless if they do not acquire another shortstop.

Next: Surprisingly Solid Rays Prospects From 2014

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