Sometimes, there are things about which you don’t mind being wrong.
Over the past couple weeks, Ben Zobrist has emerged as a prominent trade candidate for the Rays, particularly after they agreed to a deal with infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. Zobrist, 33, will be a free agent after making $7.5 million in 2015, making him an obvious trade option for the retooling Rays. And, given his plus bat and defensive versatility, Zobrist is an equally obvious trade option for most teams.
Thus, when he was first connected to the Cubs last week, among many, many other teams, my response was essentially: well, yeah, Zobrist makes sense for the Cubs and I’d love to see them pick him up … but he makes even more sense for a handful of other teams who will thus be willing to pay more for him. Teams that could use him at a higher-order defensive position, and teams that are more clearly going all out in 2015. I didn’t think the Cubs would ever emerge as a serious suitor.
But, maybe I’m wrong. And that’s OK.
Nick Cafardo reports this morning that Zobrist is being “pursued seriously by the Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Cubs.” The first three teams have been commonly-speculated top spots for Zobrist (with the Giants rumored to be involved in talks, and the middle two needing him at second base). The Cubs hadn’t been so specifically mentioned before, so this is pretty notable.
On the Cubs, Zobrist’s role would probably mirror what he’d been for Joe Maddon with the Rays*: he’d play wherever the Cubs needed him. His above-average bat would merit starting just about every day, and it’s not too hard to see where he could pick up starts (a lot in left, making Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia excellent 4/5 outfielders; spelling Jorge Soler (hamstrings, youth) in right against tough righties; spelling Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez (youth); backing up Starlin Castro at short and Luis Valbuena at third; backing up Anthony Rizzo at first).
Do I think Zobrist still has more value to a team like the Nationals or Angels, where he’d slide in as the everyday second baseman on a clear playoff contender? Yes, I do. But that was never to say he wouldn’t have solid value on the Cubs (with the added benefit of potentially making him a qualifying offer after the season and picking up a draft pick (replacing the one the Cubs might lose by signing a qualified free agent next year (but we’re getting down the rabbit hole a bit))).
How about the price, though? As a one-year guy, Zobrist won’t net the Rays a ton, but he’s uniquely valuable, has a small salary, and is one of the few quality bats left out there. I think you could expect at least one very good prospect, and another quality second piece (which is, incidentally, what Cafardo reports is the Rays’ asking price). On the Cubs, that might be the Rays wanting someone in the 6 to 10 range in their system, and another guy in the 10 to 15 range. Would the Cubs part with that much for one year of Zobrist? I have my doubts. Should they? Well, again, I have my reservations, but, as a general matter, I want to remind folks: good organizations stockpile prospects for two reasons. First, so they can help you at the big league level, and second, so they can be used as assets in trade to help the big league club. Don’t forget about that second one. The Cubs’ farm system is absolutely loaded, and not all of the youngsters are going to reach the big leagues (and the Cubs couldn’t accommodate them all even if they did).
If I had to guess, the Rays will ultimately get a little less than that for Zobrist – assuming they trade him – and I could see that kind of deal making sense for the Cubs, among many other teams.
But if Cafardo’s report is accurate, this is suddenly something to watch very closely.
*(It’s probably worth noting that, since they’ve had such an effective working relationship, it’s possible that Zobrist is incrementally more valuable to teams managed by Joe Maddon, because maybe he knows the absolute best ways to use a guy like Zobrist.)