Rays Rumors

The Qualifying Offer and the Case To Trade Ben Zobrist

By Robbie Knopf
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Something in the back of our minds as we think about the possibility of the Tampa Bay Rays trading Ben Zobrist is the fact that he would not leave for nothing if they kept him for next season. The Rays could easily offer Zobrist a qualifying offer following the year and get a first round pick if he signed elsewhere. That doesn’t compare to the prospects Zobrist could yield in a deal, but if the Rays aim to contend in 2015, the qualifying offer makes it easier to justify keeping him.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, however, looks at the qualifying offer from the opposite perspective in regards to Zobrist. The Rays’ asking price on Zobrist will be high, but teams will be more receptive to paying it knowing that they could recoup some of the value lost through the qualifying offer. If that isn’t interesting enough, we can consider the give-and-take between our knee-jerk reaction and Rosenthal’s idea.

The first question to ask is whether the Rays would indeed extend Zobrist a qualifying offer if they kept him in 2015. It will cost around $16 million next offseason, a price tag that the Rays can ill afford to actually pay. The good news for them is that in all probability, Zobrist would never accept the qualifying offer. If he has another strong season, he will be in line for a multi-year deal that guarantees him at least $10 million per season.

The issue, however, will be if Zobrist’s season does not go as planned. Michael Cuddyer played just 49 games last season, but the Colorado Rockies made the gutsy call of making him a qualifying offer and were rewarded when Cuddyer signed with the New York Mets. However, if Zobrist is sidelined for a similar period of time, could the Rays truly justify taking the same risk?

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The Rays cannot be too worried about a scenario that is unlikely to come into play. Zobrist’s 15-day disabled stint in 2014 for a dislocated thumb–a stint that lasted exactly 15 days–marked his first time on the DL since 2008. Of course, Zobrist is aging, which comes with its share of injury and attrition concerns, but he has a good enough track record that the production he provides far outweighs the reasons for concern.

It still must be acknowledged, though, that there is a case where many of the suitors for Ben Zobrist would offer him a qualifying offer while the Rays could not. With that in mind, clearly the offer has more value to other teams than it does for the Rays. Even if the difference is relatively slight, the Rays are better off using the qualifying offer to get better prospects for Zobrist than they are keeping it for themselves to exercise.

As the Rays decide whether to deal Ben Zobrist, there are factors tipping both sides of the scale. Zobrist’s bat, versatility, clubhouse presence, and cheap contract are all reasons for the Rays to keep him, especially if they believe they can contend in 2015. On the other side, however, is the return they could get for Zobrist, the risk involved with keeping him, and yes, that scenario where they would be unable to give him a qualifying offer.

The qualifying offer will be far from the most important factor that the Tampa Bay Rays will consider as they weigh trade offers for Ben Zobrist. Nevertheless, we need to be careful as we talk about the offer as a reason for the Rays to keep Zobrist as we recognize that it actually does more to further the case to deal him.

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