Ben Zobrist has become the hot new name in Blue Jays trade discussions following injuries to Brett Lawrie, declining play from 3B Juan Francisco, and a general lack of in-house options. The Tampa Bay Rays “super-utility” player is well known to Blue Jays fans for his reliable batting approach, flashes of power, and consistent defence from nearly anywhere on the diamond. Appearing to be a perfect fit for the Blue Jays on the surface, how aggressive should Alex Anthopolous be as he hunts the Tampa Bay jungles for The Zorilla?
The Blue Jays are an ideal fit for Ben Zobrist because they are a team with clear holes in their game, and he is a player without any. In similar ways that were discussed in regards to a potential Aaron Hill trade, Ben Zobrist would also have a domino-effect on the Blue Jays roster that improves upon multiple positions. Zobrist owns an impressive career slash line of .261 / .353 / .430, and despite a slight dip in his numbers across the board this season (at age 33), he has maintained his strengths of elite plate control and effective at-bats from both sides of the plate. As of today, the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist has struck out 40 times in 2014, but walked 32, proving his incredible ability to supply high-level OBP to any part of the lineup.
Defensively, Ben Zobrist has experience playing at every position on the diamond, outside of pitcher and catcher. Although the Blue Jays would make a move for Ben Zobrist primarily as a second baseman, his versatility could hold a great deal of value, even when Brett Lawrie returns from the DL. John Gibbons would be allowed a little more freedom with his daily lineups and platoon situations, while Alex Anthopolous may gain a spot at the bottom of the 25-man roster from the move.
The Blue Jays appear poised to be a classic “buyer” ahead of the upcoming trade deadline, as they are a team in strong playoff contention with holes still on their roster. The issue here, however, is that the overriding mentality amongst Jays fans to this point has been “The Blue Jays just need to go out and get Ben Zobrist”. The situation has many more variables than this, and will be significantly more complicated. If you’re looking for the last trade between the Rays (then Devil Rays) and Blue Jays, you’ll be scrolling for a few minutes. It was a 2004 deal that sent Kevin Cash to Tampa Bay for Chad Gaudin. The fate of both franchises were not drastically re-written here.
Could Tampa Bay still deal a Ben Zobrist or David Price within the division? Absolutely. The Blue Jays, however, would not win the bidding simply by offering the best package. The Blue Jays would have to blow the competition out of the water. The Tampa Bay Rays are a very good baseball team in the middle of a poor (and yes, injury-riddled) season. Ben Zobrist’s team-friendly contract has a team option for next season (2015) of $7.5M, including a $500K buyout. The Blue Jays will need to offer enough to not only convince Tampa Bay to part with Zobrist for this season, but next season as well, when they are sure to return as feared contenders in the AL East.
“In Anthopolous we believe”, though. Most times. So, if Tampa Bay were willing to sit down at the table with us and talk, what would the price tag be for Ben Zobrist? Tampa Bay loves to keep a fresh stock of young arms in their system, but I think that Anthopolos should slam the brakes the moment he hears the names Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman, although I would be surprised to see the Rays demand either. As Eric Elliot highlighted earlier, the Blue Jays rotation could be poised for dominance over the next several years, so I would be extremely hesitant to deal away one of the bigger pieces to that puzzle.
Some possibilities that may be easier for Blue Jays fans to stomach would be pitchers Daniel Norris, Sean Nolin, or the young Roberto Osuna. Perhaps the Rays would also be interested in adding another speedy outfielder to their system in Dalton Pompey, Anthony Gose, or Dwight Smith Jr.? I fear that a Zobrist deal to a divisional rival may take at least one player from each group (pitchers or outfielders), with one or two lower-level prospects possibly in the fold as well.
If the price lowers, I will proudly captain the Zobrist wagon and invite all aboard, but at this price, the Blue Jays could (and should) decide that their assets can be spent better elsewhere. Anthopolous may choose to search for a more affordable “B-level” option at 2nd base, or attempt to trade for a big name pitcher while simply keeping 2nd base afloat with in-house options.
Is Ben Zobrist the answer, and perhaps more importantly, is 2nd base really the question? The next few weeks are important ones for the Toronto Blue Jays, both on the field and off. Blue Jays fans, however, are entering into a well-deserved and long-overdue “buyers” season.