Thursday, May 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Trying Ben Zobrist at shortstop a logical move for Tampa Bay Rays

MINNEAPOLIS

The idea of moving Ben Zobrist back to shortstop has been kicked around, quietly, for weeks.

With infielder Ryan Roberts acquired from Arizona, with infielder Jeff Keppinger continuing to be one of their most productive hitters, with DH at-bats limited with Evan Longoria returning and Luke Scott on the way back this week, the Rays' issue was to find a way to get their best offensive players on the field together. And with Matt Joyce in rightfield, that meant finding a way to get Zobrist, Roberts and Keppinger in the infield.

Given that none of the above can play catcher, the other glaring area for improvement was shortstop, where Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac (remember him?) have combined to hit .233 with six homers and 38 RBIs.

The Rays felt Zobrist, who came up as a shortstop and played there occasionally into 2009, could handle the defensive responsibilities, certainly more so than Keppinger or Roberts. Then they made another interesting decision, moving Roberts to second and putting Keppinger at third — the right move, since he definitely has the better arm and has played better than expected.

Part of the reason to try it out now, especially to make sure they like how Zobrist looks at shortstop, is Scott's pending return. The most obvious move to make room is to send Rodriguez, hitting .208, to Triple A for 2½ weeks, then bring him up when the rosters expand Sept. 1.

Roberts also can be optioned, but Rodriguez seems to be viewed as more expendable. Johnson, who, like Rodriguez, can play any position, and outfielder Sam Fuld are out of options, and the Rays are unlikely to risk losing them on waivers.

Part of their premise is that Roberts, who had a .140 average in his first 13 Rays games, will heat up and prove to be one of their better offensive players. But when Longoria returns to third base — and he says it's close — they can move Keppinger back to second (and occasionally to first in place of Carlos Peña). Or they could go back to playing Johnson, or eventually Rodriguez, at short and shift Zobrist back to second.

Given how they had been going, all ideas are worth exploring.

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