As every media outlet in the country relives past trade-deadline deals and speculates about current trade-deadline opportunities, one idea popped out to me that no one seems to be exploring.
Everyone agrees that the Rays did well when they flipped Aubrey Huff’s rotting carcass for Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist at the deadline in 2006. Everyone also agrees that shortstop is one of the two biggest holes in the 2011 Rays’ lineup. So, why isn’t anyone asking why the Rays aren’t filling their 2011 shortstop hole with the bright young shortstop they acquired at the deadline in 2006?
Zobrist was the Rays shorstop for 117 games over parts of three seasons after being acquired from Houston. When it became clear that he was an offensive liability, the Rays sent him back to the minor leagues to reform his offensive approach. The rest, as they say in the movies, is history.
When Zobrist finally returned to the big leagues in 2008, the shortstop job was permanently filled by slick-fielding Jason Bartlett so, in order to get into the lineup, Zobrist had to transform into a utility player. He has done that ably becoming an above-average second-basemen and right-fielder.
But the rationale for Zobrist’s utility — a solid shortstop and a needed platoon at two other positions — has eroded. Neither Bartlett nor his replacement are in the clubhouse. Moreover, Matt Joyce looks like he’s ready for everyday duty in rightfield, with a few minor exceptions. So, in the immortal words of Mona Lisa Vito, “I aks you” why don’t we just move Zobrist back to short?
My memory tells me that Zobrist was a good defensive shortstop. I looked at his fielding numbers on Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. I still don’t totally understand advanced fielding metrics but, best I can tell, he saved about 4 runs more than the league average over the course of 1200 innings. So that is good.
Zobrist the shortstop has other positive benefits for the Rays’ lineup. First, it guarantees a lot more at bats for Matt Joyce. That is good. Second, it guarantees a lot fewer at bats for Elliot Johnson. That is also good. Third, it moves Sean Rodriguez into Zobrist’s utility role because he is a competent outfielder and a good second basemen.
All those things sound good. So why aren’t we considering this.