The Cajun God of Baseball

Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg recently said he does not foresee the team’s payroll exceeding 60 million either this or next year. One problem, the projected payroll for 2010 is already over 60 million, and that estimate is without the increases players like B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro will receive through arbitration.

That means players like Dan Wheeler (3.5 million), Akinori Iwamura (4.25 million), and Jason Bartlett (at least 1.98 million pre-arbitration) could potentially be on the move sometime within the next calendar year. Speculating on what those players could return is worthless, instead examining the players that could eventually replace them seems like a more worthwhile exercise, if not equally subjective in nature. More so, let’s focus on the middle infielder who could make all the difference for the Rays future plans.

Dave mentioned Reid Brignac last week as a player most teams would love to have. Brignac turned 23 in mid-January, but is a veteran of the Rays system. A high school draftee, Brignac shunned a commitment to LSU in favor of playing professionally in 2004. Nearly five years later, Brignac is in the perfect situation.

Last year’s first overall pick, Tim Beckham, might be the eventual shortstop, in 2011/2012. That leaves a few years between the time when Beckham will be ready and Bartlett will no longer be affordable. Enter Brignac. Formerly the offensively touted shortstop with questionable defensive skills, Brignac has worked tediously hard at becoming a better defender, and his offense has paid for it. Since 2006, Brignac has posted wRAAs of 31, 5, and -7.8 when the levels are combined. Meanwhile, Minor League Splits, using TotalZone, has Brignac worth 12, 8, and 0 runs defensively in that same time span.

Whether the scouts were basing their defensive opinions that Brignac may have to move based on his 6’3” frame or something the numbers fail to capture is up to anyone’s guess. The interesting thing I found is that only two shortstops at least 6’3” tall have played at least 100 games in the majors at the position; Cal Ripken Jr. and Andy Fox. However, a ton of 6’2” players have spent time at shortstop, notables: Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki, Bobby Crosby, Hanley Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez…basically your modern day shortstops. Is Brignac destined to join that group? We’ll see. [Ed Note: After the fact, I discovered that the shortstops listed are actually listed as 6’2.5″ inches tall. My query was for shortstops EXACTLY 6’3″ inches tall and it did not round up. Therefore, you can pretty much include those five in the 6’3″+ category.]

If Brignac’s defense has truly reached the level of being plus (5 < x < 10 runs) then Khalil Greene is an apt comparison. If the Rays feel he’s at that level, it would make sense to allow Brignac played shortstop until Beckham reached the majors, then shift the weaker defender to second.

Obviously this is all assuming Brignac continues to progress and that the Rays don’t find alternative revenue in the near future, what should be interesting is how the two situations work out.

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What about Aybar at second?