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The New York Mets and the Path Not Traveled for the Ben Zobrist Trade

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At the end of the day, the Tampa Bay Rays decided that their best option was to execute a Ben Zobrist trade with the Oakland Athletics. The deal sent Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the A’s for John Jaso, prospects Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell, and $1.5 million.

Jaso will help make up some of the production the 2015 Rays won’t get from Zobrist while Robertson and Powell make the Rays’ future look brighter. Robertson especially was quite an acquisition for the Rays, and he now profiles as their shortstop of the future. We will have to see what actually happens, but all of that sounds great in theory.

However, since two other possible Zobrist trades have been reported, the question will be not just whether the Rays won their deal with the A’s, but also whether they received the best package possible for Zobrist. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports provides detail on the two other Ben Zobrist trade scenarios, which included the New York Mets and Washington Nationals.

The first possibility would have been a three-team deal that sent Zobrist and Escobar to the Nationals, Desmond to the Mets, and two top prospects to the Rays. Essentially, the Rays would have acquired Desmond from Washington and immediately dealt him to New York. Filling in some of the blanks, the Mets were apparently going to choose the two prospects from a list of three, with one of those prospects being Noah Syndergaard.

Rosenthal specifically reports Syndergaard’s inclusion, and we can make educated guesses about the remaining two players. If the Rays asked for the Mets’ top prospect, it would make sense that the other two prospects would be their next best two, Kevin Plawecki and Brandon Nimmo.

Syndergaard would have given the Rays an ace-quality pitcher, the type of arm that would stand out even given their pitching depth. Plawecki, meanwhile, could join their big league catching mix in short order while Nimmo would give them a high-upside outfielder. Syndergaard would immediately become the Rays’ top prospect while Plawecki or Nimmo would be right behind Robertson.

Of course, those are also the reasons that the Mets didn’t want to do the trade. Desmond features good power, speed, and defense at shortstop, but the Mets did not want to give up two of their most talented minor leaguers for a player they would have for just one year.

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There are a couple of other variables involved with this trade. Hopefully the Rays would have gotten a prospect or two in addition to Desmond for Zobrist and Escobar considering that Zobrist has a better bat (thanks in large part to his plate discipline) and more versatility than Desmond. Escobar also has some trade value of his own. Maybe the Nationals could have given the Rays Brian Goodwin while sending back an A-ball prospect with some upside (say Jake Bauers).

Another interesting development is that apparently Dillon Gee came up in trade talks. That seems a little curious–why would the Rays want a back-of-the-rotation starter?–but he could have been their 5th starter to begin the season, allowing the Rays to put Alex Colome in long relief. For two years of Gee, the Rays could have been willing to give up a pitcher like Grayson Garvin along with a low-level prospect.

The Mets are trying to deal Gee anyway, so such a deal would make sense for them. The Rays would probably not be crazy about that piece of the trade, but they would have done it if the Mets had met their demands elsewhere. Instead, the much more major holdup in the deal was the Rays’ asking price of two top prospects for Desmond.

The other scenario discussed by Rosenthal was the New York Mets trading directly for Zobrist, but the Rays’ need for two top prospects nixed those talks as well. Zobrist may be better than Desmond, but not good enough for the Mets to be more comfortable dealing two minor leaguers who are so highly regarded.

Would either of these deals have worked out better for the Rays? They probably would have in the long-term, but they were never going to happen given that the Mets were never going to give up two top prospects.

If the Rays and Mets had come to a compromise, it likely would have been quite similar to the Rays’ haul from Oakland, only with their future looking a little better and their 2015 team not getting a player as valuable as Jaso back. With that in mind, the Tampa Bay Rays are quite satisfied with what they actually received in their Ben Zobrist trade, and these other possibilities will simply be amusing “what-if” scenarios to look back upon later.

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