Akinori Iwamura tore the ACL in his knee and is out for the season. This injury will have more repercussions than simply reassigning the second base job. Let’s take a closer look at the impact on different individuals in the Rays organization…
Aki Iwamura: The Rays have a 2010 club option on Iwamura for $4.25 million ($250K buyout). The Rays will be over budget next season by $15-20 million and there are other options to play second base (Reid Brignac, Willy Aybay, Ben Zobrist). Simply declining the option would be a good start towards balancing the books.
But can the Rays simply cut ties with a player making less than he is worth? Based on WAR, Iwamura had an average value of $10.9 million to the Rays in ’07 and ’08. So $4.25 million is still a very reasonable amount for a second baseman that plays gold glove caliber defense and gets on base about 35% of the time. Having players like Aki on the roster, players that outperform their salary, is the only way the Rays can stay competitive in the AL East.
Another option would be to pick up the option and then trade Aki. But at this point, it is doubtful the Rays would get fair value for a player that will be coming off of a very serious knee injury.
Reid Brignac: This is Brignac’s shot to prove he can be part of the Rays’ future. Brignac will be out of minor league options in 2010 and the second base job may be the only way for him to stay with the Rays organization beyond this season. So giving Brignac the bulk of the playing time at second base over the remaining 115 games is the simplest solution and requires the fewest changes to the team. It would also help the team decide what to do with Brignc in 2010 and beyond.
Ben Zobrist: Sure he is a super-duper-utility guy, but Zorilla has been recast this season as a power-hitting corner outfielder. So far in 2009, Zobrist has made 33 appearances combined (15 starts) in right field and left field and only 9 appearances (6 starts) in the middle infield. It would be easy to assume that Zobrist would help pick up the slack with increased playing time at second base, but we are not so sure. Joe Maddon loves the new Zorilla and would probably prefer to keep using him in the same manner and fill the missing playing time from someplace else.
Willy Aybar: Aybar’s situation is a cross between Brignac and Zobrist. On the one hand, an opening at second base is a chance to get Aybar’s bat into the lineup on a more consistent basis. In fact, it was Aybar that started at second in the first game after Aki’s injury (Brignac filled in for Jason Bartlett who had the night off). But like Zobrist, Maddon has a plan for Aybar and he may not want to deviate too much from that. Aybar on the bench gives Maddon depth and flexibility, two things he craves above all else.
Andrew Friedman: Boy. Think he is kicking himself for trading Adam Kennedy? The Rays always say they would rather make a move too soon as opposed to too late. But in this case, the Rays traded Kennedy too soon.
Summary: In the end, most of the decisions that are to be made, may hinge on how Brignac performs. If he can handle the job on a most-days basis, it allows Maddon the opportunity to keep using Zobrist in Aybar to their maximum effectiveness and ultimately it could make Aki’s 2010 option expendable.