Continuing our series on the trades that weren’t, we turn to the 2014-15 off season, when the Rays were shopping around the by then much coveted Ben Zobrist. Zorilla had blossomed into one of baseball’s most productive and versatile players. Approaching the final year of his team-friendly contract, the Rays hoped a team might be willing to overpay for one year of, arguably, the league’s most valuable player.
In January of 2015, the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics completed a five player deal that sent three players to Tampa Bay (John Jaso and two prospects, Boog Powell and Daniel Robertson) and two to Oakland, Ben Zobrist and the enigmatic Yunel Escobar.
The Athletics, however, were hardly the only team vying for Zobrist’s unique talents. One of the teams with interest in both Zobrist and Escobar was the Washington Nationals. Meanwhile, the New York Mets had a keen eye on Ian Desmond.
The Rays would send Escobar and Zobrist to the Nationals.
The Nationals would send Desmond to the Rays.
The Rays would then flip Desmond to the Mets for two prospects.
One of those prospects was Noah Syndergaard, who at the time, was the Mets number one prospect and the 11th ranked prospect in all of baseball. The other prospect was never named, but Syndergaard was obviously the prize of the proposed deal.
As everyone knows, this trade did not happen.
How has the Zobrist deal that did happen work out for the Rays so far? In 2015, as the team hobbled to finish just below .500 after nearly the entire starting rotation was injured, Jaso was out for half the year. Of the two prospects acquired by the Rays, Robertson missed time to injury but remains a solid prospect in Triple-A, while Powell would eventually be flipped in another deal at the end of the 2015 season that brought in Logan Morrison and Brad Miller.
Zobrist stayed with Oakland until the deadline, when he was dealt to the eventual world series winners, the Kansas City Royals. Ian Desmond’s production plummeted from his recent years and he struggled to find a job in the off-season. Yunel Esobar was subsequently traded three times in the span of 12 months, but he has seemingly found a home in Los Angeles.
Noah Syndergaard meanwhile lit the baseball world on fire with his blazing velocity. Over the past two seasons, he has become one of the most entertaining pitchers to watch while developing into one of the top talents in all of baseball, averaging over 10 strikeouts a game with ERA and FIP below 3.0.
Had the Rays been able to pull this trade off, their starting rotation would have been among the fiercest in the game. A review of trades, those made and those rejected, makes clear that you seldom know how players will turn out. Jaso could have stayed healthy and had the best year of his career, leading the Rays to the playoffs in 2015. In this case, though, the Mets seemed pretty determined to stick with Syndergaard, and their bet on him has paid off.