Ben Zobrist Should Be Trade Target For New York Mets


The New York Mets have had a relatively quiet offseason, making a couple of moves but not filling arguably their biggest hole on the roster; shortstop. The Mets have watched a couple of options go to other teams, as the New York Yankees traded for Didi Gregorius, and Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Cabrera signing could actually be a blessing in disguise for the Mets, as it should open up another trade option in the shortstop market. That player is Rays’ shortstop and super-utility man Ben Zobrist.

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While he may not be a household name, Zobrist maybe should be. For starters, only two players have recorded a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) above 4.5 the last six seasons. One is Zobrist. The second one being none other than two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. That is some great company to hold.

Zobrist would bring a unique ability to the Mets, as he has experience playing second base, right field and left field in addition to shortstop. As a switch-hitter, Terry Collins would have a ton of lineup flexibility everyday depending on matchups. A switch-hitter with that type of flexibility defensively would have any manager grinning ear-to-ear dreaming of different lineups to put on the field.

The flexibility is nice, but it is nicer when you can pencil it into your lineup almost everyday, which is what you have with Zobrist. Zobrist has been durable since becoming a fulltime player for the Rays, playing in at least 146 games for six consecutive seasons. That is something the Mets would welcome, as they only had three players, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy, appear in 143 games or more this past season. No one on the Mets has appeared in that many games with any consistency like Zobrist has either, as Murphy has appeared in 143 games for only three consecutive seasons.

Sep 19, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes (7) hits a grounds-rule double against the New York Yankees during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Consistency is something the Mets desperately need in their lineup, especially from the shortstop position as they haven’t had solid contributions from that spot since Jose Reyes was manning it in 2011. Zobrist’s stats won’t blow anyone away, but he provides solid production for a shortstop with the type of consistency that a team shouldn’t shy away from him even though he is in his mid-30’s already.

Zobrist has delivered double-digit home runs for the past seven seasons, and has added double-digit steals to go along with them for six consecutive years. Only 11 middle infielders reached those numbers in 2014, so to do it for six consecutive seasons without much fanfare is quite a feat.

To fall right in line with the consistency theme, he has also drawn at least 72 walks in the last six seasons, which has led to strong on-base percentages in the same stretch of seasons. That would make Zobrist a candidate to hit near the top of the order, a void the Mets are still currently looking to fill. He has taken 12.8 percent of his career at-bats from the leadoff spot and 27.3 percent from the two-hole, making him just as comfortable to be setting the table as he would being in a run producing spot.

One negative for Zobrist though is that his OPS has dropped in large part because of his dwindling slugging percentage. While he still reached double-digit home runs in 2014, Zobrist’s slugging has dropped considerably; he slugged .469 and .471 in 2011 and 2012 but only .402 and .395 in 2013 and 2014. Could this be the start of the downhill trend of his career at the plate? It is a risk the Mets, and any team that looks into acquiring Zobrist, will have to take.

While his numbers have dropped a little bit, Zobrist is still a productive player. If the Rays are indeed inclined to move him it is not because of a lack of production, but instead because the Rays are not confident they can re-sign the 34-year old next offseason when he is set to become a free agent. The Rays are not a team that likes to go near any luxury taxes either, so trading Zobrist before he hits arbitration could be the reason behind moving one of their mainstays.

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Also, it looks like Zobrist could potentially be losing out to the numbers game in Tampa Bay, as the Rays will more than likely be giving middle infield playtime to the combination of Cabrera and Yunel Escobar.

Add to that, even with the Rays moving Wil Myers earlier in the offseason, a crowded outfield. Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, David DeJesus, Steven Souza and Brandon Guyer are all in the fold, with prospect Mike Mahtook on the way. This could all add up to moving Zobrist, as Tampa Bay also has former highly-touted prospects Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham potentially in the mix for playing time in the middle infield.

With all those players pining for playing time, new manager Kevin Cash has a lot of decisions to make. Moving one could open up a lot of playing time for the others, and Zobrist makes the most sense as he would bring back the strongest package of prospects because he has consistently performed the best of the players mentioned, and the amount of teams in the bidding would drive up the price.

Sep 10, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Rafael Montero (50) pitches during the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

His availability is unknown right now, but if the Rays were to entertain offers for him, the price would be the next sticking point for the Mets. What exactly would the Rays be looking for in return? A lot of prospects are probably what the Rays would be looking for. They will not be able to pry top-level prospects such as Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz or Dilson Herrera, but should be able to get some mid-level prospects in lower levels with high ceilings. At this point in time, the Rays are looking to replenish a once stocked minor league system, and a package highlighted by Rafael Montero might be enough to get the job done.

Don’t be misconstrued, Zobrist isn’t on Troy Tulowitzki’s level talent-wise, but he would represent a sizeable upgrade over what the Mets currently have on the roster. Zobrist brings everything you would want for a winning team; durability, versatility and overall skill at a consistent level. It would be smart for the Mets to get in the bidding early and make a push before too many teams get involved in talks for him.

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