Ben Zobrist

A Ben Zobrist trade now appears inevitable

A Ben Zobrist trade has always been likely at some point this season, but it was always a question of when it would happen. Well, that’s not a question anymore with the news that Tampa Bay has signed infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. That’s too many starting caliber middle infielders for the Rays now, so one of them has to go. That one is going to be Ben Zobrist and it is going to be soon.

Yes, it could theoretically be Yunel Escobar, but playing Cabrera or Zobrist at short hardly seems like the sort of thing the defensive-minded Rays would go for. They could also move Zobrist to the outfield, but that isn’t the best use of Zobrist nor does it do anything to alleviate there pre-existing logjam in the outfield. Sorry, but the only place Zobrist is moving is to another team.

With his positional flexibility, career wRC+ of 119 and four straight 5+ WAR seasons, the Rays should find no shortage of interest in Zobrist on the trade market. The Yankees, Nationals, Blue Jays, Angels, White Sox, A’s Braves and Indians all have obvious needs in their infield that Zobrist could fill and several other teams could consider him as an outfielder. Basically, just about any team in baseball would be able to find a use for him.

That might actually put the Rays in the catbird seat for any team still looking for a quality bat. There are almost no above average hitters left on the free agent market and in signing Cabrera, Tampa took one of the top alternatives to Zobrist in the middle infield off the market. Even with Zobrist only having one year left on his contract, he should still fetch a hefty return. Already this offseason we’ve seen Howie Kendrick return a major league ready Top 30 pitching prospect in Andrew Heaney. That is where the bidding for Zobrist is likely to begin.

Such a deal could really help jumpstart the Rays rebuilding effort in the post-Friedman/Maddon era. Tampa has done well to churn through veterans and replace them with young talent over the years and remain competitive, but it might be time that they punt on winning, at least for a year. With the Red Sox reloading, the Jays making major additions and the Yankees and Orioles still ahead of them, focusing on getting the most talent possible, rather than the package that keeps them the most competitive in 2015 would be prudent.

The again, we’ve already seen Tampa swing two deals this offseason, both seemingly with 2015 in mind. The trade of Wil Myers netted them prospects, but also brought back veteran catcher Rene Rivera and rookie (but older than Myers) outfielder Steven Souza. There was also the trade of Matt Joyce for veteran Kevin Jepsen, rather than any young talent.

The Rays could always hang onto Zobrist and trade him during the season if they don’t get the price they want, but with so many suitors, that seems unlikely. The odds are long that Zobrist will still be on the Rays roster when spring training starts seven weeks from now.

About Garrett Wilson

Garrett Wilson is the founder and Supreme Overlord of and editor at The Outside Corner. He's an Ivy League graduate, but not from one of the impressive ones. You shouldn't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he is angry.