Does It Make Any Sense for the Rays To Trade Ben Zobrist?
By Robbie Knopf
When Andrew Friedman joined the Los Angeles Dodgers, there were some familiar faces there to greet him. Carl Crawford and J.P. Howell are former Tampa Bay Rays that will be contributors for the Dodgers next season, and ex-Rays executive Gerry Hunsicker will be there in the front office as well. However, recent rumors suggest that Friedman may be eyeing one more Ray to add to his group.
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Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Ben Zobrist will be receiving plenty of trade interest over the next few months and that the Dodgers could be a fit. That cannot be considered a surprise. Even though Zobrist will turn 34 in May, he does so many things to help a team between his bat, glove, and versatility. It is difficult to find a single franchise in baseball that would not be improved by acquiring him. Before we start speculating which other teams could make a play for Zobrist, though, there is a much more important question to ask: do the Rays really want to deal him?
The case for trading Ben Zobrist is relatively simple. There are two key points: 1) the Rays aren’t going to contend next season, and 2) the Rays’ minor league system needs a lot of help. The issue, though, is that the first point is questionable, and the Rays are not going to end their playoff hopes before the season even starts. The Rays have traded so many starting pitchers because they knew in every case that they could replace whoever was traded with another promising arm. Can the Rays have a good situation at second base without Zobrist?
If Zobrist is gone, it would be Nick Franklin‘s golden opportunity to be a starting second baseman in the major leagues. After Franklin experienced decent results for the Seattle Mariners in 2013, he would be receiving a second chance, this time with more job security. He will not have to worry about the Rays signing a free agent like Robinson Cano, and if he showed promise, he would not be going anywhere. However, Franklin certainly comes with risk.
Franklin features power and good speed, but he also strikes out too much and is weak against left-handed pitching. While his Zobrist-esque versatility is nice, none of it will matter if he does not hit. Logan Forsythe could platoon with him to negate the issues against lefties, and we also have to note that he isn’t a lost cause against them yet. Nevertheless, the Rays would rather not be in a situation where they are relying on Franklin for extended time. He has the ability to be a starting second baseman in the big leagues, but the Rays would vastly prefer handing him the job in 2016 after a strong performance in a super-utility role next season.
Forsythe, Sean Rodriguez, and even Tim Beckham could also receive chances if Zobrist was dealt, and top prospect Ryan Brett has a chance to be a big league option before the season is through. That being said, Franklin is the best of the bunch as of right now, and even he has his concerns.
The other factor that we have not yet mentioned is how Zobrist isn’t just the Rays’ starting second baseman, but a security blanket for their entire team. If the Rays face more injuries or poor performance in their outfield, Zobrist will be moving around to help mitigate the damage. When we think about it, the same is true of shortstop and every position other than pitcher and catcher. Even if Zobrist would not play third base or first base no matter what, he could, for instance, move to right field to let Wil Myers play first. Losing Zobrist would not only hurt the Rays at second base, but also reduce their margin for error across their roster.
People have described the departures of Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon as signs that the Rays will be heading into rebuilding mode, and that seems a touch extreme. On the other hand, a trade of Zobrist would be a true concession of defeat of the Rays for 2015. Even if it is all but inevitable that he will leave following the season, the Rays need Zobrist now as much as ever and will appreciate him for every second that he is on their team. Nick Franklin could be set for a breakout season and Ryan Brett is on the way as well, but let’s worry about the Rays’ second base situation following next season.