The latest cover model for the Rays need to recoup value for veterans before they bolt for a draft pick is the one and only, and I do not say that lightly, Ben Zobrist. This unique player has been a key cog of every Rays team since 2008 providing durability, dependability, flexibility and let’s not forget a big bat to go with his multiple good gloves. His ability and #want to play strong defense in either corner or at second base is a manager’s wet dream, but General Managers also get in on the act because Zobrist’s ability to fake it in center or shortstop over short periods means that roster spots can be better allocated. The consummate professional and teammate anyone would want will be sorely missed by Rays fans, but it will be easier to see him go if his trade tree lingers into the distant future.
Initially acquired from Houston (fun read by the way as a not yet jaded or worn down Andrew Friedman was a wheeler dealer, not unlike this rejuvenated version we’re seeing over the last weeks in Dodgertown, USA) as the secondary piece, along with primary get Mitch Talbot, for Aubrey Huff in 2006. Zobrist was known as a tweener defensively that wasn’t good enough to play SS with a bat that despite his very strong OBP skills didn’t look big enough to play anywhere else. Check out his Z-Scores below for each of his seasons.
Boy, were the critics right those first few years, but Joltin’ Joe Maddon showed perseverance and by 2008 Zobrist was rewarding his erstwhile manager earning the nickname Late Inning Lightning for his PH heroics at the end of games. Once he forced his way into the lineup he would never relinquish his spot again as he proved eternally useful at multiple positions and the very good approach at the plate allowed him to tap into some unforeseen power. He gave a ton of credit to Maddon and his personal hitting coach Jaime Cevallos and you can see above that his ability to stay within the zone and avoid whiffs led to him having very useful ISO scores throughout his career.
In these later stages you’ll notice that the power has waned a touch, but he’s still a strong contributor at the top of a lineup. Add in all the intangibles and you’re staring at one of the best baseball players in the game since his breakout in 2008. His 36.8 fWAR trails only Miguel Cabrera (40.5) and more widely appreciated teammate Evan Longoria (39.5) while beating out such luminaries as Albert Pujols (36.3), Dustin Pedroia (36.1), and Chase Utley (35.5). The latter two play 2B just like Ben does a lot of the time, but it’s likely that casual fans wouldn’t have Zobrist ahead of either of those guys that play under brighter lights and sharper microscopes. The best part is that I haven’t even gotten to the money yet.
In his 7+ years as a Ray he has taken home a total of $30.6 million which is around $4.4 million per year or if you prefer both sides of the equation around $830,000 per contributed win. I don’t need to tell you that no one with his longevity has provided anywhere near the value. The $7.5M that he will make this year in the final year of his contract is a pittance. This sort of bargain doesn’t come around often and the Rays are fortunate that the market is ripe for his talents.
Very good player Howie Kendrick just brought back top-50 prospect Andrew Heaney in a straight one-for-one trade. Kendrick will make $2M more than Zobrist this year and then will probably be offered a Qualifying Offer following the year, much like Zobrist will. Kendrick wasn’t the only guy in a similar situation that was traded as righty starter Jeff Samardzija was just traded from the Athletics to the White Sox for Marcus Semien, a player that profiles to be near league average this year with team control for a total of six years. Semien wasn’t as highly regarded of a prospect, but the A’s also received some other stuff in the deal. Both of these trades set the stage for the Rays to garner some a serious return for their venerable veteran. Here’s a look at the surplus value of each of these players:
All of these guys should receive and ultimately decline a QO so you can add another $5-10M to the bottom line for each. It’s not difficult to see that Zobrist brings more production for less money which is the essence of value. If teams are willing to give up six years of an average player and some other stuff or a top-50 prospect on the verge of usefulness then the Rays should be receiving something good whichever route they take.
Virtually every team could use a player like Zobrist. Even those not in contention may see him as a heady leader that may be amenable to signing an extension at less than fair market value. If you think that one year of Zobrist could turn into three with an option for a fourth you may be less reticent to hold onto what you think is a good package of future value. Later this afternoon I’ll take a look at which teams make the most sense and spitball some potential returns. Stay tuned, loyal reader.