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Ben Zobrist Trade Will Not Be Matt Silverman’s Last

By Peter M. Gordon
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Matt Silverman’s restructuring of the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster continued last Saturday as he executed his latest blockbuster trade. Silverman dealt one of the team’s most popular players, Ben Zobrist, and one who disappointed last year, Yunel Escobar, receiving catcher/DH John Jaso, top prospect Daniel Robertson, and minor league outfielder Boog Powell in return.

On the other side of the deal, Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics continued their habit of acquiring former Rays. Though they sent one such player, Jaso, back to Tampa Bay, Zobrist and Escobar were set to join Scott Kazmir, Stephen Vogt, Sam Fuld, Jesse Chavez, and Jesse Hahn. Instead, the A’s went down from seven ex-Rays to six before we knew it.

The A’s were not done making moves as they sent quickly sent Escobar to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Tyler Clippard. The Rays, meanwhile, have more work ahead of them as well. Jaso, Robertson, and Powell will all remain in the organization–none of them will be flipped elsewhere–but Matt Silverman’s roster is not quite as good as it could be entering 2015.

The Zobrist trade did two things for the Rays: remove their starting double play combination from the team and add a lefty batter who hits right-handed pitching well. David DeJesus‘ chances of staying with the Rays were already slim because of Steven Souza‘s impending arrival in the major leagues, but adding Jaso to the team cuts down the at-bats that would have been available to DeJesus even more.

In an ideal world, the Rays would trade DeJesus for a solid shortstop because they have no perfect candidate for the position. It’s hard to believe the Rays want to start the season with Asdrubal Cabrera at short. Cabrera was an All-Star at one time, but his fielding has deteriorated over the last two years and he’s a much better candidate to play second base.

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Nick Franklin is another option, but his fielding certainly comes with questions–there’s a reason he was converted to a primary second baseman. Nevertheless, trading Escobar in addition to Zobrist was a sign that the Rays believe Franklin deserves an opportunity to play short. 2015 will be a year where the Rays learn who their talented young players truly are, and Franklin will get a chance to prove that he can be an everyday shortstop.

Maybe acquiring another shortstop and letting Franklin be a super-utility player would be the Rays’ best course of action. Even if the position does not come easily to Franklin, though, he will still be an improvement over what the Rays had last season. Escobar was the worst defensive shortstop in baseball in 2014, and whether that is a fluke is irrelevant–what we do know is that Franklin will not be that bad.

Back to DeJesus, there is no chance that his trade value is high enough to yield a shortstop. Instead, the Rays will likely trade him for a prospect in the lower minors, hopefully one with some upside. While that can’t be what they had in mind when DeJesus was their team’s best hitter for a time last season, they would likely be satisfied between their return and the salary relief such a deal would give them.

The other possibility is that the Rays will move one of their young starting pitchers, specifically Enny Romero or Mike Montgomery. One of them could even join DeJesus in a trade to get the Rays back a better return. The Rays love having so much starting depth, but they have no need for so many starters on their 40-man roster and would love to open a spot.

The Rays would also be served well to create an opening in the Durham Bulls’ rotation. Alex Colome is set to graduate to the major leagues, but Nate Karns, Matt Andriese, Burch Smith, Montgomery, and Romero will still be at Durham. With Dylan Floro also ready for the level after a strong year at Double-A, what will the Rays do? They could shift Floro or one of the others to the bullpen, but they could get more value by moving somebody to another team.

Given the Tampa Bay Rays’ current 25- and 40-man rosters, it doesn’t appear that Matt Silverman is done putting together trades quite yet. We have a good idea of who the 2015 Rays will be at this point, but look for Silverman to make a couple more moves geared towards allocating his resources efficiently and setting his team up better for the long haul.

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