Paying the Price for Ben Zobrist

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The Blue Jays will be very active in the “buyers portion” of the trade market this upcoming trade deadline for the first time in ages and it is looking extremely likely that the Rays will become sellers in order to restock the farm and trade stars away they won’t be able to afford when they hit free agency. It’s a new situation all over.

Of course this is because the 2014 season has been very kind to the Blue Jays thus far as often criticized manager, John Gibbons has done an excellent job constructing lineups by using platoon systems in order to get the highest level of success out of his players. The main platoon system that we see is when a right handed pitcher for the opposition has to deal with the likes of Juan Francisco at 3rd base and Brett Lawrie and 2nd base. Against a left handed pitcher, Steve Tolleson plays 2nd and Lawrie moves back to 3rd. Francisco enjoyed an amazing start to his Blue Jays career but his hot start is covering up his poor past few weeks. The trends are not so hot for Juan Francisco and it has many wondering how long the leash is for a semi-full time 3rd basemen.

Francisco’s month of June is not pretty. He is hitting a measly .139 with 14 strikeouts in only 36 plate appearances. He has hit two home runs, one of them being a very key one, that propelled Drew Hutchison and the Blue Jays to a victory in Baltimore on June 13th. Outside of that, Francisco has looked quite ugly at the plate. Given his struggles, we have been starting to see Francisco take a seat on the pine more and more as the struggles continue. As evidenced by today’s (June 15th) lineup against the right hander Chris Tillman, Francisco sat and Steve Tolleson got the nod at 2nd base.

Despite the struggles, Francisco’s hot April and May have his current numbers looking like this:

8.6 BB%, 35.8 K%, .303 ISO, .241 BA, .315 OBP, .545 SLG, 135 wRC+

The strikeouts are beginning to pile up in bunches, the batting average and on base percentage have rapidly declined and Francisco’s defense really isn’t getting any better. The power he brings to the table is still massive as evidenced by his .303 ISO and he has a nice 135 wRC+ but outside of the power department, every other statistic is going downward in a hurry, with no real sign of turning around any time soon. Francisco has always been an up and down type player, more down than up. How much longer does Juan Francisco get as the semi-full time 3rd basemen? With Brett Lawrie’s amazing defense at third base and Steve Tolleson better used as a bench player (though he has played well), the call for a permanent 2nd basemen to allow Lawrie to move back to third and Francisco to become a full-time bench player will begin to take flight if Francisco’s struggles continue.

The player I’d look to acquire is Ben Zobrist, and for a number of reasons.

1. All Around Hitter
Zobrist really brings everything to the table offensively. He has never really hit for a blazing average, but his career average of .262 is pretty nice. He doesn’t strikeout a ton as evidenced by his career strikeout percentage of 16.0% and he walks at a decent clip of 12.1% for his career. He also has a great career OBP of .352 and has a wRC+ of 117 for his career. He has some power and has shown the ability to be able to drive in some runs when given the opportunities. The biggest thing I love about Zobrist is his OBP. He gets on base at an extremely good clip, and could hit behind Jose Reyes or in the five or six hole due to his ability to drive in runs and still remain on base for the likes of Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. Zobrist really fits in well at almost any part of a batting order, making John Gibbons job of assembling a batting order best catered to set the offense up for success against an opposing pitcher, easy.

2. Versatility
Ben Zobrist has found a home at second base, but he can truly play everywhere on the field. Zobrist has seen time in his career at 2nd, shortstop, 3rd, right field, left field. The versatility that Zobrist brings is extremely valuable to a team one would assume, even though we have no way to quantify this, especially come the stretch run in September and into October. Zobrist’s versatility would allow for the occasional day off for guys like Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, and Jose Bautista. He could spell Melky Cabrera in left field late in a ball game, allowing for Steve Tolleson to play second in order for the best possible defensive team to be on the field late in a ball game late. Zobrist has had a positive effect on his clubs defence in every season in which he has been a full time player. Zobrist’s versatility truly is beneficial to any ball club, but especially, a contending one.

3. Contract
Zobrist was re-signed to a team friendly $18 million dollar contract over four seasons (2010-2013). The deal also came with two option years (2014 and 2015). Zobrist’s option for $7.5 million dollars with a $500K buyout. It is also a team option. With Colby Rasmus, Casey Janssen, and Melky Cabrera all headed for free agency, there is a chance both Melky or Colby could end up leaving. Cabrera seems most likely to command a big contract and Zobrist’s $7.5 million option for 2015 would be a much cheaper alternative for the Blue Jays should Cabrera not re-sign or the Blue Jays decide not to re-sign him. Though, it is extremely uncertain what will happen with the 2015 outfield, Zobrist does have the potential to fill one vacant outfield spot, but that also opens up a hole at second base again, barring an acquisition. But for now, let’s focus on 2014.

The Verdict:
Ben Zobrist would be the perfect fit for the Blue Jays. He is on a team friendly contract, is versatile, brings a good bat, good defense and can shift Lawrie back to third base and Juan Francisco to the bench to be a late inning power pinch-hitter. What is stopping the Blue Jays from acquiring this perfect fit? Two things:

1. The Price Tag:
The price to acquire Zobrist would likely be high. Though, I don’t believe it would be as high as David Price on his own, it would likely command two high reward, near major league ready prospects. The asking price is hard to put on a player or two, but Daniel Norris and Sean Nolin come to mind

2. Inter-Division
The second obstacle is the fact that this would be an inter-division deal, very likely making the price be charged at a higher premium than outside of the AL East. As Tampa Bay approaches twenty years in the major leagues, these two teams have only made 3 trades together, with none of them being as significant as this one would. Do the Rays really want to deal with Zobrist for a year and a half? Better yet, do the Blue Jays want to deal with the pieces they deal away for possibly five or more years once they reach the majors playing in the same division?

In the end, it is quite clear Ben Zobrist is a perfect fit for the Toronto Blue Jays. Gregg Zaun’s wishes of acquiring Price and Zobrist in the same deal is very far fetched and would likely include both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, something I would be hesitant to do. Though, would Ben Zobrist cost one of Stroman or Sanchez? I personally do not think so. If that is the case, get him. Use other pieces outside of Stroman or Sanchez to acquire Zobrist and use one of Stroman or Sanchez to search the trade market outside of David Price. Still, I truly believe that acquiring Ben Zobrist is a bit farther off than acquiring an ace. Let’s hope Juan Francisco can figure it out again.

Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

  • Outside the Crease

    The price for Zobrist AND Price would be even higher then you suggest. Liekly Hutch + one of Stroman or Sanchez + Pompey +….

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  • Drew Jenkins

    Very good article that appreciates how much it will take to acquire Zobrist. I think Norris and Nolin, plus a low level project would be enough to entice the Rays.