If it wasn’t already clear, Ben Zobrist is available in a trade. If a team want to get him from the Tampa Bay Rays, however, the price is going to be steep.
Even if the Rays aren’t devoting all their resources towards winning in 2015, they still believe their team has a chance and Zobrist is a critical piece of that. With that in mind, the package of prospects that it would take to acquire Zobrist would have to exceed not only the value the Rays could get from a qualifying offer, but also the production he is set to give them next season.
According to Peter Gammons, there is a feeling among several general managers that the San Francisco Giants are moving towards acquiring Ben Zobrist. The Washington Nationals may be another fit, but the good money appears to be on the Giants making the biggest play for Zobrist at this point. Such a deal is far from a sure thing, though, because the Rays value Zobrist more than any other team and their asking price will be astronomical.
As discussed by DRaysBay earlier this month, the trade of Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the Los Angeles Dodgers tells us a lot about Ben Zobrist’s trade value. Kendrick is another topflight second baseman who is one year from free agency, and to get him, the Dodgers had to give up Andrew Heaney, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. The Rays will ask for even more, though, because Zobrist is simply a better player than Kendrick.
Zobrist’s age is certainly a factor that a team like the San Francisco Giants would have to consider. He is two years and four months earlier than Kendrick, and that presents some risk. On the other hand, Zobrist has a better track record both offensively and defensively and will make $2 million less in 2015. As a second baseman, Zobrist is still worth at least another prospect or two in addition to a Heaney-type pitcher. But as we know, Ben Zobrist is not just a second baseman.
To illustrate the value of Zobrist’s versatility, let’s take a look at how he would fit on the Giants. San Francisco currently has questions at third base and left field, and they also can’t be sure that Joe Panik will hit enough to be a regular. Having Zobrist around would give the Giants the ability to put Panik, Gregor Blanco, and Casey McGehee in the best position to succeed.
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Ben Zobrist provides his team with the opportunity for creative platoons. Zobrist would have no issue say playing left field against left-handed pitching and second base against righties if the Giants wanted to platoon Blanco with McGehee while making Panik an everyday player. If the Giants ever saw a matchup that warranted a different approach or a backup played his way into more time, the Giants could simply alter Zobrist’s time at his various positions to ensure that they got their best eight position players on the field for each game.
Zobrist would also provide depth in case of injury or if someone needs an off-day. While every team has a backup shortstop, few have one like Zobrist who can not only play the position capably, but also hit. Most importantly for the Giants, Angel Pagan is injury-prone and will likely require Blanco to shift to centerfield at some point. That would require the Giants to give someone regular at-bats, but thanks to Zobrist, that “someone” could easily be an infielder against right-handed pitching and an outfielder against lefties.
Zobrist’s versatility has made him even more valuable to the Rays than he would appear the last few years, and the Giants will have to pay a further premium over what the Angels received for Kendrick because of that. Do the Giants even have the prospects to create such a package? Heaney is significantly better than Giants top prospect Kyle Crick, who has an overpowering arsenal but also major control issues. Adding the difference between them to how much more valuable Zobrist is than Kendrick, and San Francisco would have to offer the Rays Crick and another top prospect for a deal to have a chance.
If this trade is every going to get done, the San Francisco Giants would have to offer the Tampa Bay Rays both Kyle Crick and Andrew Susac in exchange for Ben Zobrist. The Rays still might say no–losing Zobrist might mark the end of their playoff hopes–and it would be extremely difficult for the Giants to give up two such well-regarded prospects. The biggest thing to remember, though, is that the Rays are not simply selling off their players and would be more than willing to enter 2015 with Ben Zobrist still on their team. They’re not just trying to create a bidding war–they would have no complaints if the rest of baseball calls their bluff.
Whether Ben Zobrist is traded will be primarily based upon how far teams like the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals are willing to go to acquire him. Zobrist is available now just like he could have been had at the deadline, but no team has yet been willing to meet the Rays’ asking price and no team may ever get there. The Rays will continue asking themselves whether trading such a valuable player is worthwhile and the Giants will face a quandary as they wonder whether meeting the Rays’ demands is truly the best thing for their franchise.