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Breaking News: Rays Trade Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar To A’s

By Robbie Knopf
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The long-awaited Ben Zobrist trade is finally happening. However, there is a twist–the Tampa Bay Rays are giving up Yunel Escobar as well in their deal to send Zobrist to the Oakland Athletics.

Susan Slusser first reported that a deal was close and that the Rays would receive a big league player and at least one top prospect. Joel Sherman added that the big league player is ex-Ray John Jaso. Ken Rosenthal chimed in that the Rays will receive A’s top prospect Daniel Robertson, and Keith Law finished things off by saying that the other prospect is Boog Powell. And finally, Sherman confirmed the entire deal. If your head is spinning, here is the full trade written out.

Tampa Bay Rays trade INF/OF Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar to the Oakland Athletics for C/DH John Jaso, SS Daniel Robertson, and OF Boog Powell.

It was always going to be difficult for the Rays to trade Ben Zobrist, but since he had only one year left on his contract, he was always a possibility to be dealt if they received a good enough offer. Clearly Matt Silverman and their front office thought that this trade will be the best thing for their team moving forward–and may not make 2015 as bad as we might have thought.

The most interesting part of the trade is the inclusion of John Jaso, who is under team control for only 2015. Jaso is clearly a win-now piece with that in mind–although given that he is projected to make only $3.3 million next season, the Rays could work out an extension with him. In any event, Jaso is an outstanding hitter against right-handed pitching who also has the ability to catch, and that makes him a valuable asset.

This trade is unlikely to improve the Rays’ offense, but how much worse does it truly make it? Jaso will improve the Rays’ offense significantly against right-handed pitching while both Asdrubal Cabrera and Nick Franklin could are viable options to replace Zobrist and Escobar at the middle infield spots. The Rays need to figure out whether Cabrera or Franklin will play shortstop, but the net result for their 2015 team from this trade is not so negative.

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“Not so negative” isn’t the type of language you want to hear when analyzing a trade, but then we bring in the prospects. Daniel Robertson was the Athletics’ top prospect and gives the Rays the almost big league-ready shortstop prospect they didn’t have before. Robertson combines power, plate discipline, and solid defense and could be ready to make a big league impact at some point in 2016. Getting such a prospect in addition to a proven big league hitter like Jaso is quite exciting.

There is also Powell, who had his season conclude early from a drug suspension, but still possessed enough talent that he interested the Rays nonetheless. He is a speedy centerfielder who also began to figure things out at the plate in 2014 and did an especially good job drawing walks. He is clearly the third piece in the deal, but he represents another player to watch.

This Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar trade does not hurt the Rays’ 2015 effort nearly as much as an all-prospect return would have, and they still received an impressive shortstop in Robertson and a solid centerfielder in Powell. It’s always nice when you can make your future look better without sacrificing all that much in the present.

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