Ben Zobrist's trade market is red hot. One of the best players on the Rays roster, his expiring contract at $7.5 million is expensive for the club but relatively cheap given his performance. After nearly a decade playing on astroturf, the super-utility man still flashes plus defense at every fielding position. Entering his age-34 season, Zobrist is still among the 50 best bats in baseball.
Of course, Zobrist is a valuable commodity and one the Rays might prefer to hang on to, particularly if they can trade under-performing short stop Yunel Escobar for a better value, but the Rays have never had more depth at the major league level to deal from.
The presence of top free agent middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera could free up a move of either Zobrist or Escobar, as could the presence of platoon middle infielders Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe. If anything, the Rays seem prepared for a Zobrist trade, particularly if the market meets the Rays' stringent trade demands.
In his weekend column, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo defined exactly what that market looks like, while naming the Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Cubs as suitors.
As we previously noted, the plumb line for a Ben Zobrist trade was already defined by the Angels, when they shipped out Howie Kendrick for Andrew Heaney, the second best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. As a slightly better hitter on a slightly cheaper deal, Ben Zobrist is likely to cost a bit more by comparison, particularly given his defensive flexibility to slot into any position of need. Cafardo confirms that suspicion.
According to Cafardo, the Rays demands for Zobrist are not far off from a Heaney-level deal, but asking for a bit more:
"The Rays are said to be asking for at least one top prospect and a mid-level one."
It's not clear exactly what "mid-level" means for the Rays' asking price, but given Heaney's status as a Top-20 prospect, I feel it's safe to assume that a similarly tiered player and a player near the bottom of a Top-100 list would be ample to get the deal done.
With the presence of Heaney and a new-found need at second base, the Angels would have been an obvious fit for Zobrist's services, but they also recently traded for infielders Josh Rutledge, Johnny Giavotella, and Taylor Featherston to fill that void.
If the Anaheim club is desperate for better offense and upgraded defense, a move is possible, but their roster is already loaded and their prospects beyond Heaney are lacking. Unless the Angels start dealing from their major league depth to work with the Rays' needs, I don't see the connection, not with their current roster construction.
The Giants' interest in Ben Zobrist has been well known, according to MLB Trade Rumors and Peter Gammons, particularly after they lost the free agent lottery for Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley. Their free agent failures already led them to deal with the Marlins for Casey McGehee, relieving some pressure defensively. Still, Zobrist could provide ample options in the outfield corners or behind prospect Joe Panik at second, so the rumors live on.
San Francisco doesn't necessarily have the top prospect billing that the Rays rumor would suggest. Catching prospect Andrew Susac has already shown he can flash defense and power at the major league level, and a combination with Top-50 pitching prospect Kyle Crick, whose pedigree is growing in line with the likes of prospect Mark Appel and big leaguer Matt Cain, would be an overpay for the club, though hopefully close to Zobrist's market value. However, I doubt the Giants would move either prospect.
Washington was reported to have inquired on Zobrist not long ago, one of the few substantial rumors out there, but were rebuffed by a high asking price. While it would be easy to displace Danny Espinosa on the roster, it's not clear the Nationals are ready to switch from gathering prospect to prospect dealing.
Top-10 prospect Lucas Giolito is out of the question, as is up and coming center fielder Michael Taylor; however, a bidding war among National League clubs could lead Washington to put most other pieces on the table. The Rays could build around fringe Top-50 pitcher A.J. Cole, whose fastball and change look to be big league. You can never have too many quality arms, but Cole would only add to the traffic jam in Triple-A. The Rays recently completed a far more expensive trade with the Nationals in the Steven Souza deal last month.
Chicago's north side club is an obvious fit for Ben Zobrist. Reuniting with manager Joe Maddon would lead to ideal use for the utility man, and a better hitting environment for his aging bat. Chicago would also have the money to hand qualifying offers to Zobrist until he's ready to retire some years down the road. The veteran presence would be valuable among the many prospects graduating to The Show, but Zobrist's ideal position of second base will likely be unavailable with Javier Baez needing an every day slot.
The Cubs have been reticent on their desire to trade for Ben Zobrist, but if any team is equipped for the move, it would be Chicago. The list of tantalizing prospects goes on and on, so much so that naming names is almost irresponsible. One of the club's hyped outfielders like Albert Almora and another Top-100 name like catcher Kyle Schwarber would do the trick, though many around these parts would like to see DH prospect Dan Vogelbach included.