Ben Zobrist Rumors

Beltway Notes: Rasmus, Johan, Zobrist, Schierholtz

Here’s the latest from the Orioles and the Nationals…

  • The Orioles‘ negotiations with Colby Rasmus “are gaining steam,” ESPN’s Jim Bowden tweets.  Manager Buck Showalter personally visited Rasmus over the weekend and the O’s have interest in Rasmus on a one-year contract.  Rasmus has also recently had some talks with another AL East team, the Rays.
  • Johan Santana‘s stint with the Orioles was cut short by a torn achilles tendon last June but team executive VP Dan Duquette told MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko earlier this offseason that the O’s were open to bringing Santana back on a new contract.  Santana is scheduled to pitch next week in the Venezuelan Winter League.
  • Also from Kubatko, Delmon Young‘s signing is expected to be officially announced today, meaning the Orioles would have to make a 40-man roster move to make room.  In the wake of the J.P. Arencibia signing, Kubatko speculates that Baltimore could drop a catcher since they have five other backstops on the 40-man — starter Matt Wieters (obviously not a candidate to be dropped), Steve Clevenger, Caleb Joseph, Ryan Lavarnway and Mike Ohlman.
  • Ben Zobrist and the Nationals are an “almost perfect” match for a trade given the team’s need at second base and the news of Jayson Werth‘s shoulder surgery, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes.  Rosenthal feels the Nats would make a push to acquire Zobrist, though there are a few complications to a deal.  Zobrist would join Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Jordan Zimmermann as notable Nationals on the 2015-16 free agent market, and thus the Nats might be hesitant about adding yet another player who would require a qualifying offer.  I’m not necessarily sure this would be a big concern for Washington; I wouldn’t think Clippard or Span would get qualifying offers anyway, and the other four would surely reject the QO in search of lucrative multiyear deals.
  • Also looking ahead to next offseason, MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko notes that the Nationals don’t need to worry too much over potentially losing both Zimmermann and Fister to the open market given the number of other quality arms available in free agency next winter.
  • With Werth and Nate McLouth both question marks due to injury, James Wagner of the Washington Post wonders if the Nationals could bring back Nate Schierholtz as outfield depth.  Schierholtz signed a minor league deal with Washington last August and appeared in 23 games for the club.

NL East Notes: Werth, Zobrist, Fedde, Shields, Phillies

Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth will undergo arthroscopic surgery on right shoulder tomorrow and need two to three months to recover, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (All Twitter links). Werth will have his AC shoulder joint — the same joint that caused him to miss time in August — repaired at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. While the first reaction of some (myself included) is probably to wonder if this will increase Washington’s interest in Ben Zobrist, Rosenthal reports that that’s not the case. The Nats have considered the asking price on Zobrist to be too high in talks with the Rays, he says.

A three-month recovery could result in Werth missing time early in the season, which could lead to increased playing time for Nate McLouth or Michael Taylor. As the Nats deal with this unfortunate news, here are a few more notes pertaining to their division…

  • Erick Fedde, whom the Nationals selected in the first round of last year’s draft despite the fact that he had undergone Tommy John surgery, is progressing well in his rehab and has begun a throwing program, reports MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. Fedde has also begun weight training and says that Stephen Strasburg and Lucas Giolito, both of whom have undergone Tommy John in the past, have been vital to keeping him upbeat and optimistic about his recovery.
  • The Marlins have interest in James Shields but will likely only be able to make a serious play for him if his price tag drops below $100MM, writes MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Miami had “considerable” interest in Shields back in November, but they’ve since added Mat Latos and Dan Haren into the rotation mix. Haren, of course, wants to be traded back to a West Coast club, and moving him is another likely prerequisite to a theoretical Shields signing.
  • Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer examines the Phillies‘ options for left field now that Marlon Byrd is with the Reds and Domonic Brown appears to be moving back to right field. Grady Sizemore is the favorite to at least platoon with someone at that spot, but Kaplan notes that Rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera is an intriguing name to keep an eye on. The second-baseman-turned-outfielder is just 23 years of age and enjoying a brilliant season in the Venezuelan Winter League, hitting a ridiculous .372/.432/.556 with six homers and eight steals in just over 200 at-bats. Kaplan also spoke with GM Ruben Amaro Jr. about Jeff Francoeur‘s chances of making the club after signing a minor league deal earlier this offseason.

Rosenthal On Braves, Phillies, Zobrist, Rosario

Here are highlights from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal‘s latest:

  • The Braves‘ offseason has been quietly criticized throughout the industry, with other teams wondering about Atlanta’s signing of Nick Markakis and about its trades, including getting injured pitching prospect Max Fried as the co-headliner (along with Mallex Smith) in the Justin Upton deal.
  • The Phillies, meanwhile, did well in getting Ben Lively in return for Marlon Byrd and cash. The Phillies didn’t get marquee names for Byrd, Jimmy Rollins or Antonio Bastardo, but they weren’t expected to. A Cole Hamels deal would clearly be a different story, and Rosenthal names the Red Sox and Cardinals as interesting potential trade partners.
  • Ben Zobrist is likely to receive a qualifying offer next winter if the Rays deal him this offseason, and the possibility of getting a draft pick would likely make him even more valuable to some interested teams.
  • The Orioles are interested in Colby Rasmus despite his perceived makeup issues because Buck Showalter believes Rasmus can adjust to the Orioles’ clubhouse, just as Delmon Young did. The Orioles also already possess plenty of good clubhouse players who can set strong examples. The Orioles have yet to sign Rasmus, though, and it’s not yet certain they will — Nori Aoki is also available, along with a variety of outfield trade possibilities. (Showalter met with Rasmus yesterday.)
  • Wil Myers is excited about the possibility of playing center field for the Padres, Rosenthal writes. Myers has only played a handful of games at center in the Majors.
  • Other teams aren’t willing to give the Rockies much for Wilin Rosario right now, so the team’s best course might be to allow Rosario to play some first base and outfield this season and hope he improves his stock after declining offensively in each of the last two seasons.


Cafardo On Shields, Zobrist, Uggla, Papelbon, Aoki

The return of Alex Rodriguez headlines the top ten baseball storylines in 2015, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. With the 39-year-old Rodriguez and his two degenerating hips returning after serving a 162-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Cafardo posits the best-case scenario for the Yankees would be if A-Rod cannot hold up physically or the team and/or MLB come up with more damaging material to keep him out of baseball for good. Also making Cafardo’s list, the start of Rob Manfred’s tenure as Commissioner and Pete Rose testing the waters of reinstatement in the wake of the retirement of Bud Selig, a staunch opponent of allowing the all-time hits leader back into the game.

In other tidbits from Cafardo’s Sunday Notes column:

  • It has been hard to gauge the market for James Shields because his negotiations have been private. However, a MLB source tells Cafardo the Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Dodgers, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Giants have had discussions or shown interest in the right-hander. Cafardo adds the Giants have cooled on Shields after re-signing Jake Peavy, but remain open-minded.
  • The Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Cubs are seriously pursuing Ben Zobrist with the Rays‘ asking price being at least one top prospect and a mid-level one.
  • Dan Uggla is confident in returning to his former self after being diagnosed with oculomotor dysfunction (poor motion vision when moving the head or body), which was caused by being hit in the head by a pitch on two separate occasions. After a two-week exercise regimen, doctors have declared the second baseman’s motion vision normal. The Nationals, who signed Uggla to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite the day after Christmas, have prior experience in dealing with oculomotor dysfunction, as Denard Span suffered through it in 2013. The Orioles and Rangers also expressed interest in Uggla.
  • Despite his less-than-stellar reputation, Cafardo finds it hard to fathom a team would not trade for closer Jonathan Papelbon. Cafardo notes Papelbon has found a way to keep getting batters out with diminished velocity as evident by his 106 saves over the past three seasons, including 39 (with just four blown saves) for a bad Phillies team last year.
  • Clubs are only offering outfielder Nori Aoki two-year deals. The Orioles have definite interest in Aoki, who also has some appeal to the Giants.

 


Quick Hits: Scherzer, Zobrist, Young

ESPN’s Buster Olney is the latest analyst to complete an analysis of Max Scherzer‘s market. In his team-by-team breakdown, Olney doesn’t uncover any blatantly obvious match. There are a handful of teams who can theoretically afford the Scott Boras client, but none of them feel pressure to ink an ace. An offseason injury to an existing ace could change Scherzer’s market – as it did with Prince Fielder a few years ago. Then, Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez injured himself while training, opening a need for the club. Detroit remains the default guess for Scherzer’s landing spot, but it’s beginning to feel like something unplanned is necessary for the market to move forward.

  • Rays trade candidate Ben Zobrist makes sense for either Chicago club, writes Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago. There are the geographical coincidences – Zobrist is a Eureka, Illinois native and is represented by Chicago-based agent Alan Nero. There is history – Zobrist has played his entire career for Cubs manager Joe Maddon. More to the point, there is a need. Zobrist’s versatility would improve either club, although they both would lean upon his ability to play multiple positions rather than handing him a steady home.
  • Delmon Young‘s physical is scheduled for Wednesday, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. It was reported on December 24 that Young and the Orioles had agreed to a one-year, $2.25MM deal with $750K in incentives. The deal will be officially announced after the physical.

Giants Out On Shields, Scherzer; Pursuing Zobrist

The Giants are out of the hunt for free agent starter James Shields, according to Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (via Twitter). San Francisco never was in on Max Scherzer, and that remains the case, per the report.

But while an impact free agent arm is not in the offing, the team is still “trying to work a deal” to land outstanding utilityman Ben Zobrist from the Rays. A recent report from Peter Gammons had suggested that match on the veteran, who could potentially plug in at left field for the Giants while serving as a key depth piece throughout the infield. Always a potential piece of trade bait, the pending free agent became a more obvious target when Tampa agreed to terms with Asdrubal Cabrera.

GM Brian Sabean said recently that his organization has limited financial flexibility after re-signing Jake Peavy and Sergio Romo. It appeared at that time that the club would be choosing between a significant addition in the outfield against one in the rotation, and today’s report suggests that San Francisco is perhaps more focused on its lineup.

It would, perhaps, be foolish at this point to rule out entirely the possibility of more aggressive spending given the team’s recent World Series windfall. But the club already appears set to exceed last year’s payroll, and an attempt at two significant additions would bring it well past historical levels, if not even within sight of the luxury tax line.


AL East Notes: Zobrist, Yankees, Red Sox

The Rays are in a tough spot with utility fielder Ben Zobrist, writes Richard Justice of MLB.com. On the one hand, big seasons from a couple key personnel could allow the Rays to compete in the AL East. Tampa Bay is accustomed to competing in a tough environment with under-the-radar talent. However, Zobrist is a free agent after 2015. One of GM Matt Silverman’s top tasks is to buff the farm system, and a Zobrist trade could certainly contribute. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan points to Jason Heyward as a comparable trade piece.

  •  The Yankees are heading in an odd direction – they’re getting younger, writes FanGraphs’ Drew Fairservice for FOX Sports. While the Bronx Bombers have a history of leaning on established veterans, they’ll turn to a number of relative unknowns in 2015. Among those are shortstop Didi Gregorius, second baseman Rob Refsnyder, and pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. The result is a highly volatile roster. We could witness an unexpectedly competitive season if the ball bounces the right way, but the Yankees could also end up in the basement. Not everything depends on youngsters. The club could use a “dead cat bounce” from a number of its veterans like Brian McCann, C.C. Sabathia, and Carlos Beltran.
  • The Red Sox are beyond the $189MM luxury tax threshold for next season, reports the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber. While owner John Henry said he’d blow past the threshold for Jon Lester, it’s unclear if he’ll do the same for lesser talents. The Sox could still benefit from an ace, so expect GM Ben Cherrington to monitor the markets of Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Phillies trade target Cole Hamels.

The Market For Ben Zobrist

Earlier today, the Rays reportedly struck a one-year deal with Asdrubal Cabrera, prompting immediate speculation that the versatile Ben Zobrist could be on the move before the offseason is over. Given the fact that Zobrist’s defense ranges from adequate to exceptional at second base, shortstop and the outfield corners, he could help virtually any team in the game. In this afternoon’s MLBTR Chat, I noted that Zobrist could plausibly draw from interest from nearly half the teams in the league, as the one year and $7.5MM remaining on his contract is something that any club can absorb.

Here’s a very speculative division-by-division look at teams that could make a play for Zobrist.

AL West

  • Angels: The Angels dealt Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers in a one-for-one trade that netted them top young lefty Andrew Heaney, and they now project to have Grant Green or Josh Rutledge starting at second base. Zobrist’s contract wouldn’t push them over the luxury tax threshold, though they lack impact prospects to entice the Rays.
  • Rangers: The Rangers have yet to add a bat that can handle left field, and an acquisition of Zobrist would solve that need (either with Zobrist playing left or Shin-Soo Choo shifting to that position, and Zobrist manning right field). The Rangers have a bounty of young infielders to offer.
  • Athletics: The A’s currently project to have Marcus Semien and Eric Sogard up the middle, and Zobrist could take one of the middle infield spots, with Semien handling the other. He’s the type of versatile piece that has come to be commonly associated with the A’s, although Oakland has admittedly looked like a rebuilding club for much of the offseason (the Billy Butler signing notwithstanding).
  • Mariners: Seattle will have Robinson Cano at second, Dustin Ackley in left and a platoon of Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith in right field. However, shortstop right now looks to be a battle between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, and a year of Zobrist would likely be an upgrade over either. Seattle has young pitching and hitters that could appeal to Tampa.
  • Astros: As a rebuilding club that most don’t expect to contend, Houston’s a stretch to be connected to a one-year upgrade like Zobrist. Still, they could deploy him in left field or shift Jed Lowrie to the hot corner. Of course, part of the selling point for Lowrie in Houston was that he’d be playing shortstop.

AL Central

  • White Sox: The most aggressive club in the Central this offseason, the ChiSox could deploy Zobrist at second base. They’ve already added Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke this winter, and Zobrist would fit GM Rick Hahn’s recently stated goals of getting more athletic and improving his team’s defense.
  • Tigers: The Tigers aren’t a great fit, but they traded Eugenio Suarez to the Reds in the Alfredo Simon deal, and Jose Iglesias‘ health isn’t certain. They’re a stretch, but they’re in clear win-now mode with a closing window for contention as the team’s core continues to age.
  • Royals: The Royals were interested in Cabrera before he signed with the Rays and are said to want to move Omar Infante‘s remaining salary. If they can pull off that deal, a second significant trade with the Rays for GM Dayton Moore would make a good deal of sense.

AL East

  • Yankees: The Yankees are gearing up for a Spring Training battle between Rob Refsnyder, Jose Pirela and others to see who will man second base, but Zobrist could step into that spot and give the team better all-around contributions.
  • Blue Jays: Toronto is reportedly focusing on its closer position at the moment, but Zobrist would fill another need — a bat to plug in at second base. Toronto managed to acquire both Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders without parting with any of its top-ranked prospects, so they’d still have plenty of appealing assets for the Rays.
  • Orioles: The O’s have yet to replace either Nick Markakis or Nelson Cruz, and second baseman Jonathan Schoop struggled greatly at the plate as a rookie in 2014. Zobrist could help in a variety of ways as Baltimore looks to keep up with the much-improved Blue Jays and Red Sox.

NL West

  • Padres: I’d be remiss not to mention the hyper-aggressive Padres as a possible destination for a trade target. The Friars have plenty of outfielders, but they’re looking at Alexi Amarista or Clint Barmes as a starting shortstop right now. Zobrist would be yet another upgrade to a completely revamped Padres lineup, and the Friars still have a number of top prospects, as they didn’t part with the likes of Austin Hedges, Matt Wisler and Hunter Renfroe in their other trades.
  • Giants: The Giants have been frequently linked to Zobrist, with Peter Gammons even writing recently that many GMs feel Zobrist will end up in San Francisco. The reigning World Champs could deploy Zobrist in left field and use him as insurance if Joe Panik can’t repeat last year’s production.

NL Central

  • Cubs: The Cubs need to add another outfield bat, and Zobrist could fill that role while serving as an insurance policy to Javier Baez at second base. With one year remaining, he wouldn’t block any of Chicago’s vaunted young prospects, and he could help push them toward the postseason.
  • Reds: Cincinnati is also in need of a left fielder and has had trade talks regarding Marlon Byrd in addition to free agent interest in Nori Aoki and Michael Morse, among others. The Reds have traded away Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, so it’s possible that they’re no longer interested in one-year upgrades.

NL East

  • Mets: The Mets have remained patient in their search for a shortstop, and as ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin writes, that patience will look like a shrewd decision if the team is able to acquire Zobrist to man shortstop in 2015. Zobrist would deepen New York’s lineup and give them a chance at contention with a healthy Matt Harvey in a division that has seen the rival Braves shift to a minor rebuild.
  • Nationals: With Ryan Zimmerman now shifting to first base and Anthony Rendon presumably manning third base, the Nationals project to have the struggling Danny Espinosa as their Opening Day second baseman. The Nationals are considered the division favorites, but deepening their roster would better position them for a potential postseason run.

In terms of what Zobrist should fetch in a trade, it seems reasonable to expect either a Major League ready player and perhaps a prospect in addition, or a package of three to four prospects headlined by at least one particularly well-regarded name. Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan took an excellent look at this scenario earlier today, noting that Jason Heyward‘s trade to St. Louis represents a fairly sound comparable, despite differences in age and the Braves’ inclusion of Jordan Walden.

It should also be noted, of course, that clubs not listed here could make a run at Zobrist if a different move or injury opens a need. Likewise, a rebuilding club that doesn’t appear to be a fit could have interest in Zobrist simply because they want a chance to extend him or feel they can trade him midseason for more than they’d give up to initially acquire him. A team with an established second baseman may just decide that Zobrist is an upgrade and pursue him with the intention of then shopping their incumbent at the position.

The Rays don’t need to trade Zobrist now; they could move Yunel Escobar instead or simply keep Zobrist and bounce him around the diamond in a role not dissimilar to the one the Pirates assigned to Josh Harrison for much of the 2014 campaign. They could also deal another outfielder and return Zobrist to right field.

However, Zobrist has long been an attractive trade chip, and the addition of a player who could be viewed as redundant with Cabrera also on the roster figures to further motivate rival GMs to reach out to the Rays as Zobrist heads into a contract season.


Fallout From The Asdrubal Cabrera Deal

Here are a few notes on the Rays’ new one-year agreement with Asdrubal Cabrera:

  • Perhaps the key takeaway of the Cabrera signing is that the Rays now have a surplus in their middle infield, suggesting a trade of either Ben Zobrist or Yunel Escobar. Zobrist in particular would be a very attractive addition for any number of clubs, and Mark Zuckerman of NatsInsider.com looks at the possibility that Cabrera’s old team, the Nationals, could trade for Zobrist to play second base, their only obviously weak position.
  • Zobrist is a good fit for the Giants but an even better fit for the Nationals, Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles writes. The Giants might not be able to top the Nationals in a bidding war, since the Nats, for whom second base is their only significant need, could be highly motivated to acquire Zobrist. Brisbee also notes that it’s strange that Cabrera would head to Tampa Bay on a one-year deal with the intention of building his value, since Tropicana Field figures to limit his offensive output.
  • Cabrera’s signing leaves one less player for the Yankees to sign, Brendan Kuty of NJ.com writes. They could still pursue Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, to whom they’ve been connected, to play second base. Stephen Drew and Rickie Weeks are other possibilities. They could deal for Zobrist, although a trade between the Yankees and their divisional rivals in Tampa seems unlikely. They could also simply go with Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela.

Nats Notes: Zimmermann, Second Base, Moore

The Nationals have kept a low profile this winter, per MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker. GM Mike Rizzo has yet to sign a free agent to a MLB contract preferring minor league deals for veterans like Dan Uggla, Heath Bell, and Ian Stewart while netting Joe Ross and Trea Turner for being the third team in the Wil Myers trade. Here’s the latest on the Nationals’ offseason, courtesy of MLB.com’s Bill Ladson:

  • By trading Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals would be able to replenish their farm system and add a couple of veterans.
  • Ladson opines the Nationals will trade for a second baseman before the start of Spring Training (listing Ben Zobrist as a possibility) because Danny Espinosa is too inconsistent offensively, Kevin Frandsen is not seen as a starter by manager Matt Williams, and the team does not want to rush prospect Wilmer Difo.
  • Tyler Moore must have a great Spring Training to make the club coming off the bench. If not, the 28-year-old (next month) first baseman becomes a trade candidate because he is out of options.
  • With Denard Span scheduled to hit free agency after the 2015 season, Michael A. Taylor could be the everyday center fielder in 2016, but the Nationals will need to find a leadoff hitter and may have to settle for Jayson Werth.
  • Top prospect Lucas Giolito is not a rotation candidate, if Zimmermann or Doug Fister is traded. The 16th overall selection in the 2012 draft should begin the season in Double-A and could be a September callup.