Two major moves happened this evening that will definitely effect the Rays' offseason plans. For awhile, the word out of the winter meetings was that the Rays were pursuing shortstop prospect Javier Baez and, that they were willing to trade starting pitcher Alex Cobb to acquire him. As those talks cooled, however, the Cubs went out and pulled the trigger on two other deals.
First, former-Ray Ben Zobrist signed with the Cubs.
Source: Zobrist in agreement with #Cubs on four-year, $56M contract, pending a physical.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 9, 2015
That created a potential logjam in the Cubs infield and/or outfield, but they eased it just minutes later by striking a deal with the Yankees that sent incumbent shortstop Starlin Castro to New York.
The Cubs will receive pitcher Adam Warren and journeyman shortstop Brendan Ryan in return (original reports by Jack Curry of Yes Network an Jon Heyman of CBS).
What this Means . . .
For Ben Zobrist:
- He's finally getting his due. That's a nifty contract (with a no-trade clause, no less) for a guy who will be 35 next season. Once he was the most underrated player in baseball. Now teams with championship aspirations seek him out.
- He gets to play out the probable end of his useful career on a team that should be in a position to compete for the playoffs every year, and for a manager he presumably likes. Good for him.
For the Cubs:
- They're going for it. They have an impressive young core of talent ready to make an impact on the majors, so now it's all about maximizing their chances in this upcoming winter.
- Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, and Addison Russel are all exciting young players with very high ceilings, but there's legitimate concern about them being able to reach those ceilings. Zobrist (age-related risk aside) is a known commodity. The Cubs would rather have one known commodity to go with their roulette wheel of top infield prospects.
- Additionally, Zobrist's versatility will allow him to shift to the spot of any prospect—infield or outfield—who struggles to adapt to the major leagues.
- With Castro gone, the Cubs now have their young stars on a timeline where they should be able to shoulder more of the load as Zobrist ages.
- Adam Warren won't blow your socks off, but he's a decent pitcher, who has worked both as a starter and as a reliever.
For the Yankees:
- They got their infield. Castro is signed through 2019 with a 2020 team option, and he's only 25.
- What's more, they did it at very little cost, which is, strangely, a thing they seem to careabout now.
- Castro is probably an upgrade on Didi Gregorius, although Steamer doesn't project him to hit much better (94 wRC+ as opposed to Gregorius's 88 wRC+). His offensive ceiling is definitely higher, though, as he's hit above league average over a full season twice in his career. Gregorius is probably the better defender.
- But you know what? The Yanks don't need to get rid of Gregorius. Castro (probably at second base) and Gregorius (probably at shortstop) is certainly a better middle infield combo than Gregorius and Brendan Ryan.
For the Rays:
- Some of the pressure on the Cubs to trade Javier Baez is gone now. As I said above, the Cubs have a ton of high-quality young players, but young players are just that—risky, especially in their first few years. Zobrist can fill in for whichever struggles, but he won't block them in their prime if they turn out well the way Castro would have for Baez or Russell.
- Alex Cobb, if healthy, is a much better pitcher than Adam Warren, and the Cubs do theoretically still have one more piece than they do spots on the field, so I don't know that the deal is off the table, but I don't expect the Rays to be able to land Baez for much less than full value at this point.
- Get used to facing Starlin Castro.
This trade both hurts Matt Silverman's bargaining position and makes the Yankees better. It wasn't a great sequence for the Rays, but look on the bright side. Ben Zobrist didn't sign with the Red Sox, and in the odd event that the Cubs might try to trade him there, he'd have the option to refuse. Silver linings.