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Could Rays Rookies Force a Bartlett Decision?
With the Tampa Bay Rays bringing back their usual shortstop Jason Bartlett back onto their 25-man roster after a bout with hamstring problems, could the solid defensive play and offensive magic of Rays utility man Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez hasten a Bartlett departure from the Rays before the Major League Baseball Trade Deadline? With the emergence of both players, combined with a another hefty raise for Bartlett in his salary arbitration after the 2010 season, the writing might be visible on the wall soon for Bartlett’s plane ticket out of Tampa Bay.
With the Rays already showing signs of severe payroll reversals in 2010, and Brignac ( $4425K ) and Rodriguez ( $425K ) both estimated to have combined 2011 estimated salaries under $ 1 million dollars, does Bartlett’s defense and offense warrant a possible $ 5.5+ million dollar price tag? With the Rays saying loud and proud that they want to trim some fat, and possible get the Rays inline to have a overall 2011 payroll under their 2009 $ 72.8 million mark, it seems logical barring some great contract bartering between the Rays and Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, that Bartlett could carry the high dollar mark in salary for the team in 2011.
To me that doesn’t add up. Sure Bartlett has been a solid part of the Rays fabric since he came here before the 2008 season, but could both Rodriguez and Brignac caught up to him in ability,and their recent play push the Rays into grand thoughts of sending Bartlett away knowing they have viable options at a fraction of the current cost of keeping Bartlett. With the Rays possibly playing fiscal baseball in the off season of trimming more than just Bartlett from the team, the thought of keeping a player who will make 5 times the amount of money of a pair that could realistically replace him seems wasteful.
And we all know the Rays are not a usually wasteful franchise when it comes to salaries or keeping players who are beyond their future fiscal limits. Bartlett comes back into the Rays fold after 14 games away from the team. The Rays went 7-7 during his absence. But Bartlett also comes back to the Rays with a 0-11 streak before his injury decision and has hit only .135 (17-for-93) since April 30th (27 games). Adding insult to injury, Bartlett’s last hit came on May 24th when he singled off Boston starter Clay Bucholz. A year ago, Bartlett was hitting .376, with 7 Home Runs for the Rays. What a difference a year makes huh?
With the Rays firmly shouting and praising their “GTMI or Get The Man In” mantra this season, Bartlett has hit 21 straight solo Home Runs in a row, which gives Bartlett the second longest such streak in MLB history, but he is only 2 solo shots from tying current leader Curtis Granderson. But then again, Bartlett has batted mostly from the lead-off spot for the Rays in 2010. It might be exciting to see if Rays Manager Joe Maddon stays with his “hot hitter” in the lead-off spot B J Upton (versus Left-handers ) or John Jaso (versus right-handers ), or give the reigns firmly back to Bartlett tonight.
The play of Rodriguez (current 15-game hitting streak) and Brignac ( .545 Inter-League Batting Average) could mean that a hot hitter might be sitting for Bartlett tonight. But then again, Rays Manager Maddon has not be so predictable in his line-ups in the past few weeks. Some say the shuffling of the line-ups was in response to Bartlett’s absence, but I think there was another motive. I am thinking Maddon wanted to pressure his two utility men and see what pops out,both on defense and offense between the pair before making additional roster decisions.
Brignac has been a pleasant surprise in Bartlett’s absence both at the plate, and in the field. He started 13 of the 14 games since Bartlett went on the D L, and is hitting .342 over his last 23 games. Improvements at both the plate and his increased range in the middle infield might be key to a future Bartlett decision. So far Brignac has shown the maturity and the increased range to bring up the subject of trading or finding another option for Bartlett, but 13 games doesn’t give you a firm grasp of future defensive excellence…or does it? Brignac is also in the top tier concerning rookie hitters in 2010 while also carrying an impressive .341 ( 5 for 41) average with runners in scoring position this season, the same RISP average for Bartlett so far in 2010.
Chris O’Meara/AP For awhile there it seemed Rodriguez might be an odd-man out and a sure penciled in name for demotion, but he has fought back to tie Oakland A’s Third Baseman Kevin Kousmanoff for the top hitting streak in the majors this season. Rodriguez has raised his batting average almost 100 points from .197 to .285 since the beginning of the streak, plus 3 of his 4 HR this season have come during this streak. And this streak mysteriously started as he came on as a replacement for the injured Bartlett on May 29,2010. Could his insertion into the May 29th contest have sub-planted a quasi-motivational movement by both players that is still moving at breakneck speed and shows no sign of faltering anytime soon.
Sure that last bit might be a bit perplexing and amusing, but the reality is that both players seemed to have elevated their game since Bartlett’s injury. But this is also some of the solid play needed by the Rays from now into deep October that could pace them towards another cold night contest for the ultimate prize. Could either or both of these hot hitters/fielders find themselves salivating on the bench tonight eager for another shot at redemption? Who knows if the Rays will use the next 6 weeks to provide additional game play and focus their attentions on maybe excluding Bartlett’s name from their roster before the calendar turns to August this season.
The next few weeks might be the most important weeks of Bartlett’s professional career. If he falters in any way, could the Rays effectively turn their middle infield reigns to their rookie Brignac to take this Rays teams as far as he can go, and provide the confidence and the defense needed to bring the Rays a bushel of victories. There will be more than a few people thinking this scenario between now and July 31st or beyond. But then again, the Rays could have had this same situation in mid months ago, the day Brignac won the Al Lopez Award as the best rookie in Spring Training.
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