Jul 6, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist (18) at bat against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Could Rays Trade Ben Zobrist to the San Francisco Giants?

The Tampa Bay Rays are playing better, but not well enough to stop the trade rumors. Currently they sit at 9.5 games back in the American League East–would they really forego a trade that favors them for a slim chance to make the postseason? The next few weeks will answer that question as the Rays see to what extent that they can claw their way back in the division race. For now, however, they will listen to offers and try to have moves ready for if and when they decide to deal. One possible move could involve Ben Zobrist and the San Francisco Giants, and it just may be too much for the Rays to resist.

Chris Haft and Ryan Hood of MLB.com reported that the San Francisco Giants have maintained a major scouting presence on Ben Zobrist, and it is not a case where the Giants being there when he plays is purely incidental. The Giants have also been a rumored suitor for David Price, but they have been to Rays games even when other pitchers have been scouting. The Giants special assignment scout may be ex-Ray Pat Burrell, but several other scouts have also been taking down notes on Zobrist. The Giants do have a legitimate interest in the Rays’ versatile infielder, and the Rays have shown intrigue on their side as well. Haft and Hood note that they have been scouting the Giants’ Double-A Richmond affiliate, where top pitching prospects Kyle Crick, Adalberto Mejia, and Clayton Blackburn have been pitching.

Zobrist has been playing extremely well of late to get his line up to .266/.352/.406 on the year. His speed is not what it once was, and the same could be true of his power, but he retains his excellent plate discipline, a still stout bat as a switch-hitter, and his flexibility in the field. Zobrist stands out for his ability to not only play second base, shortstop, left field, and right field, but to be a strong defender wherever you put him. Even if Zobrist is beginning to decline at 33 years old, he remains an excellent player, and he is signed for the next year and a half at an affordable rate. With that in mind, it will not take a top prospect in all of baseball to acquire him, but it will likely take one of a team’s more promising minor leaguers and at least one other player to make a deal happen. Unlike in the case of David Price, where the Giants would have difficulty putting together a package to the Rays’ liking, San Francisco has exactly the type of players the Rays would like in exchange for Zobrist.

Crick is the Giants’ top prospect, and although he has control issues, the Giants would be reluctant to include him in a Zobrist trade. Adalberto Mejia or Clayton Blackburn, though, would be another matter. Mejia is left-handed and features more upside, but he has struggled to a 5.90 ERA this season. Blackburn, meanwhile, has performed better, possesses a higher floor, and is closer to the major leagues. In addition, Blackburn still has impressive stuff, touching 93 MPH with his fastball with good command, and throwing two promising secondary pitches in his curveball and changeup. With Mejia’s value not nearly as high as it could be and the Giants still enamored by his potential despite his issues, Blackburn looks like the type of player that could be the centerpiece of a Zobrist deal.

For the second player in the trade, the Rays could be interested in two of the Giants’ lesser prospects: Joe Panik and Gary Brown. Panik, currently on the Giants’ big league roster, is a second baseman who lacks much pop at the plate, but is a strong defender with good plate discipline. Brown, on the other hand, has a higher ceiling, but significantly more risk after inconsistent performance the last three years. Panik would be the player the Rays would prefer because they are still trying to figure out their long-term second base situation. If the Giants offered Blackburn and Panik in exchange for Zobrist, that would be extremely difficult for the Rays to turn down.

The Tampa Bay Rays and San Francisco Giants are possibly interested in a Ben Zobrist trade, but it remains to be seen how deep their respective interests go. Would the Giants be willing to trade players like Blackburn and Panik to make a deal happen? Even if that offer would be fair value, would it be enough for the Rays to deal a player that has emerged as the prototypical Tampa Bay Ray for the last six years? There are a lot of questions left unanswered, but the Rays and Giants match up quite well on a potential Zobrist deal, and we will have to see if it eventually comes together.

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Tags: Ben Zobrist Clayton Blackburn Joe Panik Tampa Bay Rays

  • Richard Truong

    I can see that kind of trade, Blackburn and Panik for Zobrist but will be very reluctant as Huddy is only signed for two years and getting older, Tim Lincecum is on a 2 year deal and finally has gained some of his past form, and Voggy won’t be re-signed so we can easily see Blackburn or Escobar in the 5th spot and when Huddy’s contract is over, here comes Kyle Crick to the majors. Stratton and Beede will need 3-4 years in the minors.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      Blackburn is an interesting arm (as are Escobar, Mejia, and others), but the Giants have a few guys like that at the upper levels of the minors, and now could be the time to give one up with their big league team needing help. The good news with this trade is that the cost would be something of value but not anything too crazy, and Zobrist would help them for this year and next.

  • TheRealRyan

    This is a very underwhelming return and I would expect much more for a top hitting second baseman. He is also a switch hitter with above average defense at 2B, LF and RF and at least average defense at SS and signed to an inexpensive contract.

    If this is truly the best return we could get, Zobrist has more value returning to the Rays for a playoff run next year. A 5 WAR 2B being paid like an average 2B is worth more to a potential playoff team than 2 prospects who have ceilings of a mid rotation SP and a utility player.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      You’re underrating both players. Blackburn is exactly the type of pitcher that the Rays get the most out of. With a fastball touching 93 MPH with sink, a very good curveball, and a solid changeup that you know the Rays will help him improve even more, he has a chance to follow the path of Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi and be another starter that exceeds expectations. Panik, meanwhile, may end up as a utility player, but that certainly isn’t his ceiling. With good bat speed, a strong approach at the plate, and defense that has only gotten better since he has moved to second base, Panik could immediately replace Zobrist on the roster (although it isn’t hard to picture the Rays sending him to Triple-A nonetheless) and be the Rays’ starting second baseman for sure by next season. We are talking about two players with considerable potential, one of whom is big league-ready and the other of whom is less than a year away.

      The Rays will hope for more, and considering how much they value Zobrist, that may not even be enough. But if the Giants made that offer (and maybe added in another player from the lower minors), it would be a legitimate offer that the Rays would have to seriously consider.

      • TheRealRyan

        I don’t dislike either player and would be fine if they were the 2nd and 3rd pieces in a potential deal. However, I think you might be overrating these guys, or underrating Zobrist.

        I’m not the one who sees Blackburn as a future mid rotation SP. That is every major scouting and prospecting site out there. Baseball America says that Blackburn can touch 93, but feels more comfortable 87-90. They also said coaches have to stay on him about his conditioning. MLB says he doesn’t have a true plus pitch and grades his FB and CH a 50, with his CU a 55. Fangraphs calls him a future #4. A common comparable thrown around is Joe Blanton. While he is still young, now that he is facing better, more advanced hitters in AA his H/9 are up to 10.0 to go with a career low SO/9 of 7.1.

        For Panik, every report states that he is best suited as a utility player or perhaps a 2nd division starter for a few seasons at his peak. MLB grades his hit, power and run all below average to well below average.

        Just because the Rays could use these players or have a track record of maximizing the potential of similar players, doesn’t mean you settle for less than premium talent when trading someone like Zobrist. The Rays believe that their team is ready as currently constructed to compete for the playoffs next year and maybe even this season. If they decide to trade a very good and valuable piece of the MLB roster in Zobrist, they need to make sure they are getting some talented players back. Neither of these two are those players. If Crick or Susac aren’t in a deal with these two, the Rays need to walk away and keep Zobrist’s 5 wins at 2B next season.