Rays Rumors

How Realistic Of A Trade Candidate Is Ben Zobrist?

By Drew Jenkins
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The Tampa Bay Rays face a conundrum this offseason. Their team already appears to be fairly set heading into 2015, but it is largely the same team that got them nowhere in 2014. Also, the Rays have stated they want to lower payroll, and to do so they will need to make a couple of trades. At this year’s trade deadline, one player who came up in a fair share of rumors was Ben Zobrist, and at one point we even thought he was traded until it turned out to be a fake report. Zobrist’s name will likely swirl around again this offseason, but how realistic of a trade candidate is he?

Once again, Zobrist was a solid contributor to the team in 2014. Though his power may not be what it used to be, Zobrist’s .272/.354/.395 line and 119 wRC+ were more than respectable. Once again his versatility allowed Joe Maddon a wealth of flexibility in the lineup, as Zobrist appeared at five different positions. All of this lead to Zobrist winning the team MVP award, and once again he proved himself one of the more valuable players in baseball.

Because of his efforts, Zobrist was worth 5.7 fWAR and 5.0 rWAR. To put that in perspective, David Price posted a 6.1 fWAR and a  4.6 rWAR. So essentially, Price and Zobrist were worth around the same value to their clubs in 2014. That’s where trading Zobrist becomes tough.

Logically, Price has significantly more value than Zobrist. After all, Price is one of the best pitchers in baseball and a perennial Cy Young Candidate, and while Zobrist is a great contributor, he is not likely to win any MVP awards at this point in his career. But, metrics like WAR indicate that Zobrists and Price are worth roughly the same value, and that is something that the Rays recognize.

Because of this, Zobrist is an unlikely trade candidate. The Rays know his value, and their asking price is going to be sky-high. Simply put, acquiring Zobrist from the Rays would likekly take almost as much as acquiring one year of Price would take. Realistically, teams are not going to meet that price, and that is why Zobrist is most likely going to finish out his contract with the Rays.

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That said, there are a couple of factors that still make Zobrist being traded a possibility. His $7.5 million salary is a good deal, but it is still a significant one for the Rays. They need to lower payroll, and thus they could be a bit more open to dealing Zobrist for a little less return than if they did not need to lower payroll. Also, the Rays have Nick Franklin waiting in the wings. Though he has yet to establish himself as a big league, Franklin seems ready to take on a Zobrist-esque role with the Rays, and that could make the Rays more comfortable dealing Zobrist. These are two factors that will certainly influence the Rays decision to trade or not to trade Zobrist, but in the end they don’t matter if teams won’t come close to matching their asking price.

In the end, it seems likely that Zobrist will remain a Ray this offseason. The Rays recognize his value to the club, and thus they are going to ask for a premium prospect or two in return for Zobrist. That price is unlikely to be met, as many teams see Zobrist as a 33 year old utility man with declining power numbers and just one year of team control left. That said, it only takes one team to match the Rays price to line up for a deal, so we cannot completely count out a Zobrist deal this offseason.

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