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Marwin Gonzalez: A Tampa Bay Rays Trade Target at Shortstop

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Rest assured, the Tampa Bay Rays will have a shortstop on Opening Day. By the end of the season, we may even be able to say that they had a fine shortstop situation all year. As of right now, though, the Rays are at least considering the possibility of acquiring a shortstop to augment the middle infielders they currently have.

As we talked about last night, the Rays do not desperately need to make a trade for a shortstop. That being said, they have nothing to lose assessing their options and seeing if they can find a fair deal. Let’s go through some possibilities and get a feel for which players Matt Silverman and the Rays will be targeting in trades. We will start right now with Marwin Gonzalez of the Houston Astros.

After signing Jed Lowrie to be Jose Altuve‘s double play partner, the Astros actually find themselves with a solid middle infield picture entering 2015. It is good enough that a player set to be on their bench, Marwin Gonzalez, could see starts at shortstop for the Rays if the team were to acquire him.

Gonzalez, who will turn 26 in March, is similar to Nick Franklin in that he is a switch-hitting middle infielder who only really hits right-handed pitching. Beyond that, 2014 was only the first year that his hitting was respectable, although his 105 OPS+ as a middle infielder was quite impressive. He also did hit right-handed pitching well in 2012, so there is some reason to believe he can hit such pitchers moving forward.

The biggest reason the Rays would consider getting Gonzalez is that he has a good defensive track record at shortstop, with DRS rating him at 6 runs above-average in his 171 MLB games there. However, he is considered 6.7 runs below average according to UZR/150 and just average per FRAA. Realistically, his defense is about average. Even so, average is certainly more than what Asdrubal Cabrera is capable at shortstop this year, and the same probably holds true for Franklin.

Marwin Gonzalez could be expendable for the Astros at the right price given all of the infield depth they have beyond him. Lowrie, Altuve, and Luis Valbuena should all be everyday players, and the Astros also have Matt Dominguez and Jonathan Villar. The most concerning scenario for Houston–and the biggest reason they would want to keep Gonzalez–is that a Lowrie injury would force Villar to start at shortstop.

From the Astros’ standpoint, though, prospect Nolan Fontana could represent another option before the year is through. Their shortstop position will not a lost cause if Lowrie goes down at some point. Holding onto Gonzalez in preparation of a Lowrie injury is a defensible decision, but it is also an overly conservative one. If the Rays offer them sufficient value in return, they can’t say no simply because of paranoia about their depth.

What would fair trade value for Marwin Gonzalez be? Well, we know that the Rays want to trade one of their extra Triple-A starters, and pairing one of them with a low-level infielder should be enough. A deal of say Enny Romero and Ty Young for Gonzalez and possibly a prospect would represent a good haul for the Astros (they would effectively be selling high) without costing the Rays any critical players. Romero could immediately compete for a bullpen job in Houston.

The issue with the Rays acquiring Gonzalez, though, is that he is so similar to Franklin and under team control for the next three seasons. This season seemed like it would be Franklin’s chance to make an impact in a Rays uniform, and it would be quite bizarre if they acquire a player who could potentially block him for years to come.

On the other hand, the Rays would be sending Franklin to Triple-A to see if he can improve against left-handed pitching and become an everyday player. In addition, Franklin’s versatility would actually allow him to coexist with Gonzalez if the Rays were to trade David DeJesus, an outcome we know is quite likely.

Franklin already has some experience in the outfield and a super-utility role may be in his future anyway. With DeJesus gone, Franklin could begin the season as the Rays’ starting left fielder against right-handed pitching while also seeing some time everywhere else.

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When Steven Souza is ready, that playing time would disappear–and we know that Souza could be ready as soon as Opening Day. But if Franklin proves himself capable at a variety of positions, he could get a good amount of at-bats spelling players like Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, John Jaso, Asdrubal Cabrera, James Loney, Gonzalez, and Souza (with some help from others moving around as well). At least a couple of players will inevitably face injury or poor performance, and when they do, Franklin would have an even easier path to starts.

We are going to discuss quite a few more possibilities in the next few days, but Marwin Gonzalez makes sense as a trade target for the Tampa Bay Rays in theory. If they believe enough in his strong offensive output from 2014 and solid defense, he could improve their shortstop situation against right-handed pitching while also freeing up Franklin to head back to Triple-A or improve their depth elsewhere.

Next: Is the Rays' Shortstop Situation Really So Bleak?

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