While most of the trade rumors surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays have been about David Price, Ben Zobrist has gotten his share of airtime as well. As Jayson Stark of ESPN notes, that could be even more of the case for Zobrist and others if the Rays do decide to trade Price.
If the Rays decided to sell, it wouldn’t just be Price they’re selling. Other clubs say they’ve been informed that if they light the “sale” sign, the Rays would “be very open on a number of fronts.” In other words, they’d listen on Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Yunel Escobar and others.
The big clarification that has be made from the quote is that the Rays would be lighting up the “for sale” sign, not the “fire sale” sign. Price being dealt would not automatically signal that the Rays would be willing to trade all their other veterans, just that they would be willing to listen to offers. If the Rays do decide to trade Price, however, a number of different scenarios could make sense as the Rays hope to restock their minor league system without giving up on this season.
We heard on Monday that the Rays were closing on a deal with the Seattle Mariners involving Ben Zobrist before deciding to hold off on any deal until 24 to 48 hours before the July 31st trade deadline. We know how highly the Rays value Zobrist, so if they believed that the Mariners’ offer–which likely included Nick Franklin–was worth dealing their star super-utility man then, that would certainly remain the case after Price left. In addition, the Rays would not be giving up entirely on this season by making that trade. Franklin would replace Zobrist on the roster, and between him and Logan Forsythe, the Rays’ second base situation would still have plenty of potential. Franklin is even capable of playing the outfield, so the versatility factor would still be in play as well. Overall, it seems like a near-certainty that the Rays will trade Zobrist if they do deal Price. Before we set that in stone, however, it is worth looking at the other players Stark mentioned to see how a Zobrist trade on top of a Price one would affect them.
In regards to Matt Joyce, a trade makes sense for the Rays even if they do decide to keep Price. The Rays will have an outfield logjam when Wil Myers and David DeJesus return, and Joyce seems like the odd man out. However, with Myers and DeJesus still weeks away, the Rays would have to figure out what to do with their outfield until then, and Zobrist was a major part of that. If Zobrist and Joyce were gone, would the Rays be comfortable having all but one of Brandon Guyer, Nick Franklin, Logan Forsythe, and Sean Rodriguez playing every single game between left field, second base, and DH? The Rays have faced worst situations than that in recent years, but a Zobrist trade would likely nix the possibility of Joyce being dealt because the Rays would still be trying to contend.
For Escobar, meanwhile, the picture is even more clear: the Rays will not be trading both him and Ben Zobrist. Doing so would mean that they would lack a legitimate everyday shortstop. Rodriguez can play there, as can Franklin, but neither is great defensively and the Rays would still have to deal with second base. There is no help coming from the minor leagues either as Hak-Ju Lee‘s development has stalled after his knee injury, and he is not even close to being a big league possibility. Jake Hager is having a solid year at Double-A, but aggressively promoting any prospect goes entirely against the Rays’ development strategy.
All of that being said, the Rays could still see where the market is for Escobar and decide to deal him instead of Zobrist. Escobar’s extension for at least the next two years may not be as team-friendly as originally thought, and it could be worthwhile to the Rays to trade him if the right offer comes around. Zobrist could slide right over to shortstop for the remainder of this season as well as 2015, and then the Rays could figure out their shortstop situation between Lee, Hager, and others after that. It is also worth noting that trading Escobar but not Zobrist would not prohibit a Joyce trade in any way. Sean Rodriguez is a good enough shortstop to play there once or twice a week with Zobrist sliding to the outfield, especially since that would only be necessary for a few more weeks.
The Rays could also look to trade a more minor piece like Juan Carlos Oviedo, but at least regarding their major trade chips, there are three different ways for the Rays to proceed after a David Price trade:
- Trade Just Ben Zobrist
- Trade Just Matt Joyce
- Trade Matt Joyce and Yunel Escobar
The best part about these scenarios: they’re dictated not based on any desire from the Rays to dismantle their team, but simply based on the offers they will receive for each player. Scenario 1 seems to be the most likely given that the Rays believe they’re getting a steal from the Mariners in return for Zobrist. However, the Rays could not only shop Zobrist to other teams, but also compare what they would receive for him to what they could get for Joyce, Escobar, or both and see which option makes the most sense for this season and beyond. The Rays will not trade any player simply to make a trade, but only because they would be in the driver’s seat as a seller in the current major league environment and could end up receiving several favorable offers. A David Price deal would likely be a harbinger of one or two additional trades, but the Rays would be executing a selective sell-off rather than a fire sale as they hope to become the best they can be moving forward.