Ben Zobrist Suggested as Potential Trade Target for Rays

On the surface, Ben Zobrist doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional trade chip. His age (38 in May), cost ($14 million AAV), and lack of club control (2019 is the final year of his contract) all run contrary to what most teams are looking for when it comes to full-season acquisitions. But Zobrist is still very versatile defensively, he’s coming off of an excellent offensive campaign, and he brings that extra dynamic of clubhouse leadership so many competing teams covet.

Therein lies the quandary of his possible availability, since the Cubs are supposed to be one of those contending teams. Of course, they were also supposed to have an almost limitless budget to fix their broken offense. That’s obviously not the case, and, unless they eventually surface as the Red October, the reality of the situation is that the constraints placed on the front office could lead them to make some unexpected moves. Yes, even trading Zobrist to free up money.

“I’m one of the pawns,” Zobrist admitted to reporters ($) during the recent Cubs Convention while acknowledging that he was aware of the rumors. “You kind of recognize where you’re at as a player and then you own it. I don’t have a no-trade clause at this point, so I could be traded.

“In the offseason especially, the front office is trying to figure out the right pieces to put in place for the next season. I trust them. I know that they’re wise, kind of shrewd businessmen, and they’re going to make the right decisions based on the amount of money that they have.”

As hard as it is to imagine the Cubs actually moving their World Series MVP, it’s really just a matter of creating the best 25-man roster for 2019. And if freeing up that salary would give them the wherewithal to land Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, well, you can see why Theo Epstein might have to make that difficult decision. And I say difficult because it wouldn’t be easy to part with Zobrist as an individual, not because trading one year of his production for several more from a superstar requires much thought.

The other difficulty would seem to lie in the factors listed above, namely that Zobrist is almost as old as I am and is making about two and a half times more than Nick Markakis for fairly similar production. Seems like the only suitors would be big-market teams in search of a veteran bat to sort of round things out and put them over the top. Which, again, pretty much describes the Cubs.

But what if the market for Zobrist included some unlikely teams, maybe even the one with which he debuted and had his most productive campaigns. As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times suggested, the Rays could consider bringing a fan favorite back into the fold.

If the Rays did want to add another proven bat, Ben Zobrist could be an intriguing, and quite popular, option in trade from the Cubs.

I should note that the sentence above is the only portion of Topkin’s column dedicated to this topic, so it’s not as though there’s momentum building or anything is close to tangible. At the same time, the mere mention of it does suggest that the possibility has as least been discussed. Or maybe Topkin is simply spitballing and connecting some dots.

Despite their reputation for frugality, a trade for Zobrist would make sense for the Rays on several levels. It was recently announced that Tropicana Field’s capacity would be reduced from roughly 31,000 to only 25,000 or 26,000 as the result of a renovation plan meant to improve the fan experience. Part of that upgraded experience is a move to becoming the first cash-free sports venue in North America, which, yeah.

This all comes after plans for a new stadium in Ybor City came apart at the seams due to anemic fundraising efforts and a great deal of local political controversy. Add it all up and you’ve got a team in desperate need of a positive PR coup. Zobrist alone can’t make that happen, but he might help put butts in seats and get fans to whip out their phones to buy beer and hot dogs via Apple Pay.

There’s also the matter of the Rays being legit contenders this season, which is the real reason to add a veteran bat. Though they’re projected to finish third in the AL East, FanGraphs has Tampa just beating out Mike Trout and the Angels for the second Wild Card spot. Bringing in a guy like Zobrist, who can still turn around a fastball and might be even more effective with the extra rest afforded by the DH, would really help the Rays survive the rigors of a tough division.

All that said, I’d wager the odds of Zobrist being traded back to Tampa are about as good as those of the Brewers Twitter account going a week without getting dunked on.

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