The Tampa Bay Rays are almost certainly in something of a reloading, if not full-on rebuilding, mode right now, having moved David Price for youth last Summer, and having dealt Wil Myers for a handful of prospects a couple weeks ago. And, with one of their most valuable players just a year away from free agency, you’ve got to believe the Rays aren’t done.
That player, of course, is super utility man – the best in baseball – Ben Zobrist, whose value is uniquely tough to peg. At 33 (34 in May) and set to make $7.5 million in 2015, Zobrist has a ton of one-year value tied up in his contract and his bat (career 118 wRC+, and right in that range each of the last two years), alone. But there’s also the fact that he can play every single defensive position, and can play most of them very well. The options a guy like Zobrist gives you are more varied and of higher quality than perhaps any single positional player in baseball.
So, that is all to say, yeah, he’s got a lot of value. How much trade value is really hard to peg, but we may find out at some point in the coming months. That’s because Jon Morosi reports that a Zobrist trade is likely coming at some point before Opening Day. Morosi mentions the Cubs as a possible destination, given their need in the outfield, but also mentions seven other teams that make at least as much sense. Hell, given Zobrist’s unique ability, is there really a team in baseball that couldn’t use him?
To that end, I’d be very cautious about taking too much away from the specific mention of the Cubs there. Sure, there’s the Joe Maddon connection (though, given the ongoing tampering investigation, and possibly lingering bad feelings, maybe the Maddon connection cuts both ways). And, sure, the Cubs could use a sure-fire bat in the outfield. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether there are teams out there with an even greater need for Zobrist as, for example, a starting second baseman or even as a shortstop, where his value is even higher.
You never feel entirely comfortable with the pieces you have, but it does seem like the Cubs have relatively strong versatility as is, particularly in the infield. The outfield is the question mark, but the Cubs’ real interest there is in adding a big, regular bat (or at least a strong righty complement in left field). Getting Zobrist to fill that role is a bit like buying a flat-screen TV to be your coffee table. Sure, it’ll work, but you’re paying a heck of a lot more than you would if you just picked up a solid table.
That said, if the Cubs feel like Zobrist’s other value – that unique super utility ability plus the bat – is really what they’re looking for, then, sure, pursue Zobrist aggressively. Because, don’t get me wrong: I’d love Zobrist on this team. It’s just that I think there will be other teams out there who stand ready to utilize Zobrist’s value primarily in a higher-order defensive position than the Cubs, and those teams would thus be willing to pay more in trade for Zobrist (for example, Peter Gammons says that several other GMs believe the Giants will ultimately trade for Zobrist).
In other words: let’s keep an eye on what happens with Zobrist, but I’d be very surprised if the Cubs emerge as a significant bidder.