The baseball world, and most Rays fans, were shocked when Asdrubal Cabrera signed a one-year, $8 million dollar deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. After all, it was a surprising development both for the Rays and for Cabrera’s free agency.
At the beginning of the offseason, MLB.com had ranked Cabrera as the 13th best free agent and the 8th best position player. With several clubs looking for middle infielders, it was assumed that he would sign a lucrative multi-year deal. Instead, Cabrera never got the offers he was looking for and instead had to agree to a one-year contract to reestablish his value.
From the Rays’ standpoint, meanwhile, they were looking to cut payroll and just maybe start retooling their team. They also seemed like an unlikely suitor because they had a pretty darn good second baseman in Ben Zobrist.
We now have to wonder where the signing of Cabrera leaves Zobrist in the scheme of things for the Rays in 2015. Cabrera and Zobrist play the same position, make virtually the same amount of money, and have one year left on their contracts. Let’s take a look at the possibilities and see what makes the most sense for the Rays.
The first option would be to leave Zobrist at second base and use Cabrera as a DH. Let’s eliminate that right away–Cabrera isn’t a good enough hitter to be the Rays’ DH.
The second possibility would be to use Zobrist primarily in the outfield. He could join Desmond Jennings and Kevin Kiermaier to form one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. David DeJesus, meanwhile, could form a DH platoon with Brandon Guyer. Zobrist would still play the infield in a backup capacity, but Cabrera would become the Rays’ everyday second baseman.
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The third option would be to trade Zobrist. The media is pushing this as the most likely option. A trade of Ben Zobrist would probably garner a major league ready young position player and a pitching prospect. The most likely trading partner would be the San Francisco Giants, who need help both in left field and at either second or third base. They also have catching prospect Andrew Susac, who would certainly interest the Rays.
Finally, the fourth possibility would be to deal another player like Yunel Escobar or David DeJesus. The issue, however, is that the Rays would be selling low on either player, effectively making either trade a salary dump. Following an Escobar deal, the Rays could move Zobrist to shortstop next season, but they would be left without an obvious solution at the position for 2016.
Which way will the Rays go? My guess is that if the Giants offer up the Susac deal, the Rays take it and hope that Cabrera pans out as their second baseman. If no deal looks inviting, they will put Ben Zobrist in the outfield. They still have the option to trade him mid-year, especially if highly touted prospect Steven Souza proves to be major league-ready. In the end, it’s the same old Rays roster game. Are they playing for today, tomorrow, or both?