For all the conversations surrounding Tampa Bay Rays‘ starting pitcher David Price and his speculated trade market, there is another Rays player flying under the radar who should be on the Seattle Mariners‘ wish list. The Mariners would like to acquire a bat before the MLB trade deadline, with a right-handed one being both the organization’s preference and need. Enter the very versatile, very available 33-year-old Ben Zobrist.
Mariners beat writer Bob Dutton reports that Seattle had their top scouts in attendance for the Mariners’ home series against the Kansas City Royals July 7-9. It’s interesting to note as well that Price did not pitch in the series. Zobrist will never again be the player he was in 2009 when he produced a line of .297-91-27-91-17. He was an legitimate All-Star that season, but he is also only one year removed from being an All- Star in 2013.
So if the Mariners are not getting in Zobrist a blue chip bopper in the prime of his career, should a trade come to fruition, what exactly would they be getting?
For one, he’d be a reliable, veteran presence. Zobrist is a free agent after the 2014 season. 33 years of age is not necessarily over hill for a baseball player, so there should be some pop left in his bat and some oil on his glove. His postseason numbers have never been great, but at least he knows what it’s like to play in competitive games in October. That would surely be a welcomed asset to the Mariners’ clubhouse. Zobrist also has not appeared in less than 151 games since 2008, so his track record does not have glaring durability issues.
Versatility is another strength as he’s capable of playing both middle infield positions and anywhere in the outfield, though historically Zobrist has mostly played in right field. Given that SS Brad Miller and INF Nick Franklin have not yet been a revelation for the Mariners, he would be a suitable replacement. Zobrist would also be capable of days at designated hitter in the Mariners’ lineup. Plus, he is a switch hitter, so the M’s could possibly check that coveted right-handed bat off their wish list.
Zobrist is an undervalued, somewhat underrated player. Given that he’s on the wrong side of 30, is a free agent in 2015 and is not tearing the league up, the Mariners should be able to low ball the out of contention Rays on an offer. Zobrist missed some time in May with a dislocated thumb, so his numbers in 2014 are not where they may have been had he stayed healthy. The two-time All-Star would be a great fit in the M’s lineup, where, go figure, he is a career .285 hitter at Safeco Field, well above his career norm of .263.
Zobrist has been hitting well as of late, showing that there is indeed still some gas left in his tank. He is slashing .389/.463/.500 in July. Either way, the Mariners figure to be buyers before the deadline and the Rays are sellers. The trade makes sense, and Seattle would have to give up substantially less than they would for a top-tier arm like Price. To make the haul worth their while, if the Mariners really prefer Price over Zobrist, a package deal that includes both of them should be put on the table.
The Chicago Cubs seemed to part earlier this month with SPs Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for a somewhat low bounty. Maybe making a strong offer for Price and bringing Zobrist into the deal as an afterthought would be the best approach for the Mariners’ front office to take. It has to be a buy-low scenario on Zobrist, though, because unlike Price, who becomes a free agent in 2016, the Rays’ versatile position player will be under no contractual obligations to any organization in 2015.