We recently talked about how, even if the Cubs have to get “creative” this offseason to make improvements via the trade market, it’s not exactly going to be easy sledding because of the years their most tradable pieces just had.
There is a big caveat to that, however, but it’s not a guy I was overly eager to discuss: Ben Zobrist.
The 37-year-old super utility man put together what SHOULD have been the Comeback Player of the Year season in 2018, showing that, even at his age, when he’s healthy and rested properly, he can still play all over while hitting .305/.378/.440 (123 wRC+). Were he made available in trade, the one year and $12.5 million remaining on his deal ($14M AAV) would probably look pretty attractive to a number of teams out there.
Of course, the reason it would look attractive to other teams is kinda the same reason it would look attractive to the Cubs: the guy is a switch-hitter who takes great at bats, produces results, plays serviceably at multiple positions, is a huge plus in the clubhouse, and is now on a relatively inexpensive one-year deal.
Admittedly, if the Cubs add an impact bat to the roster, Zobrist’s playing time would be further reduced, but let’s not act like he wasn’t one of the best bats on the team last year and could still be deployed judiciously to great effect in 2019. I just haven’t seen the urgency to discuss Zobrist as a hypothetical trade candidate in the Cubs’ apparent battle to free up cash.
Which is not at all to say I blame Sahadev Sharma for raising the possibility this morning. A source suggested to Sharma that shopping Zobrist could make sense for the Cubs.
Because it’s very hard for the Cubs to move any other chunks of salary, and because you could at least plausibly create a roster-view where Zobrist is more redundant than some other guys, then sure, this is something that should be discussed and considered by the Cubs, especially because – as crass as it sounds when talking about the Cubs’ World Series MVP – this could be an opportunity to sell high.
The Cubs could, in theory, trade Zobrist for prospects (which is a need anyway), and re-allocate the funds toward a bat in the outfield, while simultaneously picking up a versatile infielder in free agency or trade. It is at least conceivable that, through a series of moves, the Cubs could be just as versatile and offensively covered as they would have been by keeping Zobrist, but they’d have some prospects and a little more youth on the roster for their trouble.( Zobrist has a limited no-trade clause this year, and can block trades to eight teams. For what that’s worth.)
Relationships between players and teams don’t last forever, and Zobrist’s has a looming expiration date in any case. Maybe it’s time to seriously think about this. One big headwind would be the robust second base market in free agency, though Zobrist, as you know, is more than capable of playing more than just second base.
Of course, the flip side to a trade is that the Cubs would be committing to more dollars in the medium term and they’d also be giving up the intangible benefits of having a guy like Zobrist around. I can’t quantify that value as I sit here today, but I know it ain’t nothing. Also, this really only makes sense for the Cubs if they can definitely pull off the other moves to fit with it just perfectly, and that’s never a guarantee. (Of course, the Cubs *did* pull off a required coterminous Starlin Castro trade three years ago at the Winter Meetings in order to sign Zobrist in the first place.)
I guess this is what “creative” means, eh? These are the things the Cubs must at least consider.