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.