The Tampa Bay Rays have a number of difficult decisions to make this offseason regarding arbitration eligible players, but Daniel Robertson may prove to be the most difficult.
As much as it pains me to write an article about the possible non-tendering of Daniel Robertson, it is a valid point in need of a discussion. Yes, I have written my fair share of pieces praising the 25-year-old utility infielder, but there is a perfect storm brewing that may force the hand of the Tampa Bay Rays front office to non-tender Robertson.
What is that perfect storm? Well, when you combine his lack of production in 2019, his Super-Two status and arbitration eligibility this offseason, his injury history, the arrival of Mike Brosseau, and the approaching Rule 5 draft it appears as though the universe might as well be working against Robertson.
A lack of production in 2019:
After a very productive albeit injury shortened 2018 season, Daniel Robertson entered the 2019 season with high expectations. Those expectations would never be met as he struggled to stay healthy for a second consecutive season.
In 74 games, Robertson was worth -0.3 fWAR. He slashed .213/.312/.295 with only two homeruns and 19 runs batted in. In 2019, his average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and walk percentage all fell while his strikeout percentage rose.
Super 2 Status and Arbitration Eligibility:
This offseason will mark the first of four times that Robertson will be arbitration eligible due to his Super-Two status. This offseason he is predicted to make roughly 1.1M. But, since arbitration contracts are largely decided on the earnings of previous years, Robertson’s earnings could grow in the coming years.
The Rays might want to avoid this scenario especially since they have a pre-arbitration eligible player ready in Mike Brosseau.
Since his arrival in 2017, Daniel Robertson has struggled to stay on the field. He missed the second half of last season after spraining his thumb and subsequently undergoing surgery. This season, he dealt with knee inflammation and again needed surgery that sidelined him for most of the second half.
In total, Robertson has played only 161 games over the past two seasons.
The arrival of Mike Brosseau:
In Robertson’s absence Mike Brosseau, an un-drafted rookie, made his debut on June 23rd and finished his rookie campaign with 51 games under his belt. In his rookie season, Brosseau slashed .273/.319/.462 with 6 bombs and 16 runs batted in. He was worth 0.7 fWAR and if you project that out across an entire season, Brosseau could have been on his way to a two win season.
He did struggle to find consistent playing time down the stretch, but nonetheless his play earned him a start in the Wildcard game versus Oakland.
The approaching Rule 5 Draft:
The Rays will again have to navigate a 40-man roster crunch as the Rule 5 Draft approaches. By December, the front office will have to create space for at least five prospects including Vidal Brujan, Ronaldo Hernandez, Jake Cronenworth, Lucius Fox, and Kevin Padlo.
Travis d’Arnaud, Avisail Garcia, and Eric Sogard will free up three roster spots as they enter free agency, but the return of Jose Alvarado and Hoby Milner will still leave the Rays searching for four roster spots. With Brosseau and Robertson both on the roster, the Rays may choose to go with the cheaper, cost controlled, more effective option in Brosseau.
Furthermore, the Rays have plenty of depth at second base that will only grow when Vidal Brujan arrives. Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle, Daniel Robertson, and Mike Brosseau all played second base this season for the Rays and are all on the roster thus adding to the case against Robertson.
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When you combine all of the factors above, it isn’t out of the question that Daniel Robertson’s time in Tampa Bay may be coming to an end sooner than we thought. Only time will tell, but the Rays rarely choose to pay players when there is a cheaper, cost controlled, and more productive option waiting in the wings.