Welcome back to the RCG Mailbag, where we take some of those burning Tampa Bay Rays questions on your mind and attempt to give you some answers.
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Marv K. asks: The DFA and subsequent trade of Sean Rodriguez raised no eyebrows at the time, but it does not look as good anymore. Now that Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar have been traded, the Rays could really use a righty-hitting backup infielder like Rodriguez. How much of a mistake was it that they let him go?
Looking at the players currently in the mix for the Rays’ roster, it certainly seems like Sean Rodriguez would make the team if he was still around. Without him, the Rays are left picking between Tim Beckham, Juan Francisco, and Jake Elmore (if not David DeJesus) for their last roster spot, and none of them are as good of a fit. The Rays’ ideal 25th man would be a righty batter capable of playing shortstop, and Rodriguez certainly fits that profile.
However, looking at how the Rays’ offseason turned out is not a good way to evaluate the trade of Rodriguez. Before we even talk about how much the Rays will be missing without him, we have to look back at the reasons that he was dealt at the time.
Steve Geltz is still on the Rays’ 40-man roster. If Rodriguez was retained, he would be long gone. The Rays considered Geltz to be good enough to call up last September even after a drug suspension limited his Triple-A time. While Geltz’s command was questionable in his big league stint, he also posted a 3.24 ERA and a promising 15.1 strikeouts per 9 innings in his 8.1 innings.
There is no guarantee that Geltz will become an effective reliever for the Rays, but if he proves himself worthy, they can have him for the next six years. The Rays saw Jeff Beliveau break out after two years cycling between Triple-A Durham and Tampa Bay, and Geltz’s mid-90’s fastball gives him even more upside than Beliveau. Was it worth losing Geltz to keep Rodriguez?
You can say that the answer to that question is “yes,” but then we get to our next issue. The Rays will not only have Geltz to compete for a long relief role in their bullpen, but also the player they received for Rodriguez, Buddy Borden. Matt Silverman managed to turn one year of a utility player into a pitching prospect with a fastball touching 96 MPH, and that was as much as he could have ever hoped to get.
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In exchange for keeping Rodriguez, the Rays would would have lost the chance for not one, but two electric arms. What would they be getting in exchange for that? If Rodriguez was on the team, he would have a chance to be the Rays’ starting shortstop against left-handed pitching. However, would the Rays really want that? After Rodriguez was dealt, we talked about how the Rays were using him like they believed his defense had deteriorated.
The player who currently seems like the Rays’ best bet at shortstop against lefty pitching, Asdrubal Cabrera, only wants to play one position, and Rodriguez can’t be much worse than him at shortstop. But aside from any defensive concerns, we can also talk about Rodriguez’s bat.
It was certainly a fluke that he set a career-high in home runs while managing just a .258 on-base percentage, and he could be in for a rude awakening in 2015. According to Brooks Baseball, Rodriguez’s strikeout to walk ratio against all pitches other than four-seam fastballs was a horrific 50-1. Rodriguez will be seeing a ton of breaking pitches outside the zone next season, and we can’t be too optimistic about his ability to adjust to that approach.
The Rays saw a chance to sell high on Rodriguez by getting Borden and also keep Geltz. Even in light of all of their other moves, they won’t regret that very much. They may need to sell Cabrera on playing both middle infield spots for right now, but Tim Beckham could be even better than Rodriguez moving forward. They also brought in Juan Francisco as a minor league free agent, and his power is actually better than Rodriguez’s.
It seems like would be nice for the Rays to still have Sean Rodriguez as an infield backup. The reality, though, is that there are reasons to question both his offense and defense plus they had something to gain by trading him away. Sean Rodriguez the name makes a lot more sense for the Rays than Sean Rodriguez the player.