A few weeks ago I briefly mused on Twitter that if Ben Zobrist is on the market, the White Sox should make an attempt to add him. Then, at the end of December, the Rays signed Asdrubal Cabrera which lead to the inference that Zobrist was going to be traded, and possibly to the White Sox. Zobrist is owed $7.5 million for 2015, what will be his age-35 season, after which he will be a free agent. Primarily a second baseman, Zobrist is famous for his versatility, playing all three outfield spots and even some shortstop last year. His offensive profile is also of the Little Bit Of Everything variety, being a switch hitter with doubles power, decent average, and walks. With the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche, and Zach Duke, the White Sox are clearly trying to compete in 2015. Zobrist would address a position of weakness while providing depth virtually everywhere on the diamond. Should they do it?
I have tipped my hand in the way I phrased that intro - I think they should, unless the Rays' demands are crazy. Full disclosure, I have had a Ben Zobrist crush for a long time - he has such a nice, short, level swing, he can play so many positions, he walks a ton, and basically would have fixed any number of positions that were killing the White Sox for years. I also attended this game in 2009, wherein he hit a grand slam off Matt Thornton, making me very, very sad (seriously they won 3/4 in that series and I attend the one where they blow a 5-2 lead? Bah!).
In the past I would have been hesitant about dealing with the Rays, as Andrew Friedman was very sharp, and was often able to extract excellent returns on his trades - the high profile deals I'm thinking about are: Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and two other pieces who may yet contribute for two years of James Shields that weren't exactly cheap; and grabbing Matt Garza for Delmon Young. It's worth noting that I don't think much of the return that he got for David Price; notwithstanding that, there's a reason the Dodgers were so eager to get him and Friedman was a big part of why the Rays have been so good with such low payrolls in recent years. But - Andrew Friedman ain't in charge no more.*
*I just watched Home Alone on a flight the other day.
The new Rays front office has yet to establish a track record, but it is clear that they aren't scared of dealing key players from the franchise - they have already flipped Wil Myers and Matt Joyce, among others. Although the Rays could realistically compete next year, it still seems like an uphill battle in the AL East, and they have been skewing younger. Zobrist is a logical trade candidate.
For the White Sox, although they have already added a lot of salary at this point, $7.5 million isn't really that much more to take on - although two wrongs don't make a right, they will be paying Jeff freaking Keppinger $4.5 million next year, for example. While there are internal options for 2B currently in the organization - Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson, as well as Tyler Saladino should he recover speedily from surgery last summer - none of them is a sure thing. The White Sox have turned positions over to internally developed rookies in the recent past and had it blow up in their face - think Brian Anderson in CF, or Brent Morel or Josh Fields at 3B. I like all of those players that I mentioned for 2B, but I think it's also realistic to think that there is a strong chance the White Sox get below average production from the position in 2015 or worse. Rick Hahn has made big changes in the organization over the last few years, but I will believe that they can internally draft and develop a position player when I see it. Seriously, it's been a long time - like, an Aaron Rowand long time.
Zobrist not only provides a career .264/.354/.429 bat at the position, having played his whole career in a pitcher-friendly park (granted, his slugging took a step backward last year as he aged into his mid-30s), but should an injury occur at another position - particularly the outfield or shortstop - he can just slide over and cover there. Sanchez and Johnson and Saladino look a lot more appealing in a season where you're trying to compete when they're Plans B through D instead of A through C. Zobrist is getting older, and 2B is a position where players age quickly, but 2B across the majors hit .250/.307/.364 last year, and it is hard to imagine Zobrist not being substantially better than that again in 2015.
Zobrist only has one year left on his contract and is going to be a 35-year old second baseman. I believe the White Sox should offer to take on 100% of the money in order to minimize the amount of talent they would have to send back in a trade. Maybe the Rays' asking price is too high, and as an outsider I can't really know what they want, but it would just be one more mid-sized move that brings the White Sox that much closer to a 2015 AL Central title.
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