The current favorite to start at shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays is a player that they acquired in a deal with the Seattle Mariners, Nick Franklin. Even after the trade, though, the Mariners still have a middle infield surplus while the Rays face questions at short. While either Asdrubal Cabrera or Franklin could conceivably hold down the position for the team, Cabrera’s defense is poor while Franklin could use more Triple-A time to work on hitting lefties.
While Franklin’s hitting against right-handers and decent-enough defense at short makes him a solid option at the position, the Rays at least have to explore other possibilities. If they play their cards right, they could end up with a solid starting shortstop and potentially make Franklin a more valuable long-term commodity as well. We talked about the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez as one way the Rays could try to do that, and talking to the Mariners again could lead to another.
This spring training, Seattle is set to have a competition between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor for their starting shortstop job. It won’t be an easy choice. Miller comes with a better bat, especially in regards to his power potential, but Taylor’s glove is superior. In addition, even if Taylor’s offensive upside is lower, he out-hit Miller in 2014, has less of a platoon split, and also features better speed.
What matters most to the Rays, though, is what will happen to the loser of the competition. Miller could hypothetically stick on the M’s roster in a super-utility role, but how many at-bats are really available for him? He only hits right-handed pitching, and he did not hit them as well as players like Dustin Ackley and Seth Smith from whom he could take at-bats on an occasional basis.
If Taylor loses out to Miller, meanwhile, he would likely head to Triple-A. The Mariners could entrust their backup infielder spots to Willie Bloomquist and a non-roster invitee like former Rays prospect Shawn O’Malley while Taylor could continue developing at the plate. On the other hand, considering the Mariners also have a solid shortstop prospect in Ketel Marte set to spend time at Triple-A Tacoma next year, Taylor might be more valuable to them as a trade chip.
The Mariners certainly don’t have to trade the loser of their shortstop competition. Other than the fact that depth is always nice, we also have to remember that Brad Miller and Chris Taylor could potentially coexist on their team. However, if they do decide to explore a trade, the Rays could be one possibility.
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If the Rays acquired Miller, it would be a similar situation to what we talked about with Marwin Gonzalez last time. Miller would be the Rays’ starting shortstop against right-handed pitching, with Asdrubal Cabrera sliding over there against lefties, while Franklin could start the season at Triple-A. When the Rays decided to call Franklin up, he could man a super-utility role and maybe even start in the outfield depending on whether Kevin Kiermaier is hitting and whether Steven Souza is already in the majors.
While Brad Miller could help the Rays, though, Chris Taylor might be a better fit. If Taylor was on the Rays, then they would no longer need to worry about playing Cabrera at shortstop against left-handed pitching. He could also be their starter against righties as well, although we have to think that Franklin would spell him at least occasionally if they were both on the team.
The biggest deal, though, would be Taylor’s defense. Both UZR and DRS really liked Taylor’s glovework in his rookie season, rating him 4.4 and 4.0 runs above average respectively. While Franklin could be an average fielder at the position, the opportunity for a potential plus defender in Taylor would also have to interest the Rays.
What would it cost the Rays to acquire Brad Miller or Chris Taylor if they were available? That remains to be seen, but we have to think that the Rays would give up Hak-Ju Lee in any deal. That would allow the Mariners to maintain depth and open up shortstop for Nick Franklin at Triple-A Durham. Ty Young looks like another likely candidate to be dealt as a player coming off a strong season at Low-A who simply doesn’t have a spot available at High-A because the Rays have too many infield prospects.
From there, the Rays could add a low-minors prospect with some upside like say Nolan Gannon or Christopher Kirsch. That would mean that the Mariners were getting a talented shortstop prospect back (albeit one with risk), a pitcher with potential, and even a decent A-ball infielder.
The Rays would possibly be willing to give up a bit more than that–German Marquez and Jake Bauers are two other names to mention. In any event, the exact players involved are less important than the fact that the Rays can give the Mariners an offer worth their while without giving up a real top prospect other than Lee.
Seattle Mariners fans have something to look forward to once spring training begins as they will watch Brad Miller and Chris Taylor compete for their team’s starting shortstop job. They won’t be the only ones watching–the Tampa Bay Rays will be paying careful attention as well. Once spring training ends, we will certainly see a report of the Mariners getting calls about the loser of their shortstop race, and the Rays could be among the teams who contact them.