Once set, Rays' infield now a jigsaw puzzle

Once set, Rays' infield now a jigsaw puzzle

ST. PETERSBURG -- Prior to last week, the Rays' infield looked set heading into the 2017 season.

Then the Rays traded Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers on Jan. 23, which left a hole to fill at second. Nevertheless, the infield still looks solid with Evan Longoria at third, Matt Duffy at shortstop, and Brad Miller at first or perhaps second.

Longoria remains the key component of the group. He established career highs of 173 hits, 36 home runs, 81 extra-base hits and 330 total bases in 2016, one of the best offensive seasons in Rays history.

In doing so, Tampa Bay's most senior player put away any talk about having his best days behind him.

Duffy's 2016 season ended after September surgery to repair a left Achilles injury. He played third base for the Giants, but was a shortstop prior to that, which is why the Rays traded for him. Though Tampa Bay saw a limited sample of what Duffy could do, the sample size was sufficient to make the club believe it had a shortstop for 2017.

Duffy's arrival allowed the Rays to move the hard-hitting Miller to first base.

Miller came to Tampa Bay via a trade with Seattle, ostensibly to take over shortstop duties. That didn't work out, but Miller's 30 home runs in 2016 proved a positive addition to the team's offense. Miller still considers himself a shortstop, but accepted the position change.

Miller has played 37 games at second base in his four-year Major League career, including 18 starts. What the Rays will miss without Forsythe is a solid everyday player, a tough out and a great teammate. Would Tampa Bay consider moving Miller to fill the hole? Doing so would create a hole at first base.

Nick Franklin and Tim Beckham appear to be the most likely candidates to take Forsythe's place if Miller isn't moved.

Franklin appeared to end the season with an edge over Beckham, who went through some trying times before he was reassigned to Triple-A Durham.

Franklin did well, but Beckham also showed flashes of talent throughout the season. He recorded base hits in eight consecutive at-bats, and played first base for the first time in his baseball career, doing so flawlessly.

Daniel Robertson could also earn a spot on the roster, depending on how Spring Training shakes out.

There is an outside chance the Rays could trade to fill the gap at either second base or first, depending on how they decide to use Miller. Jurickson Profar of Texas might be a possibility if Tampa Bay decides to trade and the two clubs line up.

Even if a move isn't made, it's safe to say that even without Forsythe, the Rays' infield appears to be in good hands.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.