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Was The Jason Bartlett Trade A Big Mistake?

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The Rays may have traded away their starting shortstop, but they seem to have only helped themselves in the process.

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On December 17, 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays sent their starting shortstop and 2009 AL All Star Jason Bartlett to the San Diego Padres. In return, they received relievers Brandon Gomes, Cesar Ramos, and Adam Russell with minor league infielder Cole Figueroa.

Many Rays fans protested the transaction, Bartlett having been the Rays' best shortstop since Julio Lugo and at least the second best in team history, but the Rays felt compelled to trade Bartlett for a variety of reasons:

First of all, the bullpen, having only retained Andy Sonnanstine from the 2010 season, was bereft of talent. Secondly, the Rays had two potential shortstops -- once-top-prospect Reid Brignac and middle infield super-utility-man Sean Rodriguez. Moreover, with Ben Zobrist playing stellar defense at both second base and right field, the Rays had the beginnings of a logjam in the middle infield.

On top of that, Bartlett had begun to show signs of aging. One of the reasons the Rays traded for Jason Bartlett way back in the Delmon Young trade was because of his stellar UZR -- or Ultimate Zone Rating, an advanced fielding statistic. However, after joining the Rays and spraining his knee in July, 2008, Bartlett's lateral range and his UZR took a nosedive, costing the Rays defense almost 14 runs between 2008 and 2010.

Additionally, with Jason Bartlett entering the later years of his career, the Rays could not continue to pay him the relative peanuts they had for the majority of his tenure with the team.

So, confident Bartlett could help the Rays use an area of strength -- middle infield -- to help them improve an area of weakness -- the bullpen -- Andrew Friedman and company sent their shortstop to Ron Burgandy's hometown. Almost immediately, the Padres signed Bartlett to an extension, giving Bartlett $4M in 2011 (the same he earned in 2010) and $5.5M in 2012, as well as a club option for another $5.5M in 2013.

Meanwhile, Cott's tells us the Rays paid only 4 players over $3.0M in 2011: Johnny Damon, B.J. Upton, James Shields, and Ben Zobrist -- all major contributors to the team's success.

Jason Bartlett went on to post an unspectacular 245/.308/.307 slash in 2011, but the damage he caused against the Padres offense paled in face of the Rays' shortstop production: a disgusting .193/.256/.282 slash.

Bartlett's statistics:

as SS 137 615 2 23 10 .245 .308 .307 .615 .291 78

The Rays shortstop's stats:

as SS 162 596 9 10 9 .193 .256 .282 .539 .246 55

In short: The Rays shortstop situation was not pretty offensively. Defensively, the Rays took a step forward in the post-Bartlett era, according to UZR -- but so did Bartlett himself.

After consistently two sub-par defensive seasons, Jason Bartlett assembled a near-average defensive season for the Padres. Altogether, the Rays shortstop carousel -- which included Reid Brignac, before his demotion, Sean Rodriguez, and utility-man Elliot Johnson -- combined for 1.7 WAR, or Wins Above Replacement level.

In other words, the Rays shortstops gave the Rays about 1.7 more wins than an average Triple-A shortstop would have. In San Diego, Bartlett put together a 1.8 win season -- just barely better than the Rays players.

At the same time, though, the Rays got Cole Figueroa -- a strong-hitting middle infielder for the Rays in Double-A this year -- as well as Brandon Gomes (age 26) -- who turned in a rather strong rookie performance over 37 bullpen innings (2.92 ERA, 3.73 FIP).

Adam Russell (age 28) did no sparkle as much in his showing (3.03 ERA, 5.14 FIP), getting good results (the low ERA) despite a really awful process (the terrible FIP). Russell eventually fell to the minors, where his struggles continued. And Cesar Ramos (age 27) did not impress either (3.92 ERA, 4.72 FIP), serving as both a long man and occasional LOOGY.

As whole, it appears the Rays, though not massive "winners," appeared to have benefited from the trade. Bartlett, though not terrible with the Padres, only barely out-produced the Rays trio that earned a combined ~$1.3M to Jason's $4M. And though the Rays will still look to upgrade in 2012 -- possibly even promoting former #1 draft pick Tim Beckham -- they must be relatively pleased with how the Bartlett trade worked in the end.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.