Ben Zobrist Rumors

Matt Silverman On The Ben Zobrist Trade

The trade of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for John Jaso, shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson and outfield prospect Boog Powell on Saturday was a franchise-changing one for the Rays, who parted with a longtime star. Zobrist joined the team in 2006 when it had never had a winning season and was still called the Devil Rays, and he was a key to the team’s turnaround, helping lead the organization to its first winning season in 2008.

USATSI_7995594_154513410_lowresRays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman told the media Saturday afternoon that the decision to trade Zobrist, who would have been eligible for free agency after the season, was a painful one.

This has been a difficult transaction for all of us to stomach,” Silverman said. “There are a lot of heavy hearts in the organization today. Ben has been a central figure in the transformation of the organization.”

Unsurprisingly, Silverman said that a team in the Rays’ position sometimes has to trade veterans for young talent.

These trades are difficult, but they’re a necessary part of how we operate. In an ideal world, we don’t make these kinds of trades, but we don’t have the luxury to do that,” he said.

While not all trades of older players for younger ones work out, such trades have often proven helpful to the Rays in the past.

We acquired Ben Zobrist in a trade kind of like this,” said Silverman, referring to the deal in which they sent former star Aubrey Huff to the Astros in 2006.

The Rays parted with another starting infielder in Escobar in today’s deal as well. They knew heading into trade discussions that the Athletics liked Escobar, because the A’s had claimed him from the Rays on revocable waivers last year.

When we talk to teams, oftentimes interest is expressed years before transactions actually come to a head,” said Silverman, adding that the A’s were one of a number of teams with interest in Escobar. “Oakland had interest in Yunel for awhile, and it helps set the tone for conversations.

Now, with Zobrist and Escobar gone, the Rays will need to reshape their middle infield. The key will be Asdrubal Cabrera, whose signing the Rays officially announced today. Silverman said that Cabrera would get regular playing time either at shortstop or second base.

Beyond that, he noted, “we have an open mind heading into the spring” regarding the middle infield. Silverman added that Nick Franklin, who the Rays acquired in the David Price deal last summer and who can also play both shortstop and second base, could now get more playing time as well.

There are a number of players in our organization who probably see a better opportunity for them,” Silverman said, though he also suggested that the Rays could continue to look for outside middle infield help.

Meanwhile, the Rays did get one big-leaguer as part of their return in the trade. Getting a good left-handed hitter in John Jaso was a key to the deal, Silverman said.

He’s the kind of offensive player that our lineup has been missing against right-handed pitching,” said Silverman.

The position Jaso has played the most is catcher, but Silverman suggested that Jaso’s hitting was more important to them than his ability to catch. Jaso missed the end of the 2014 season with concussion issues. Silverman said he expects Jaso to be healthy heading into the season, but added that it’s important that the Rays put Jaso “in the best position to succeed,” seemingly suggesting that the team could limit his catching if playing the position proved to be a health risk. The team could use Jaso at first base or outfield in addition to occasional catching if he proves he can perform at those positions.

We want to make sure we get as much out of that bat as possible,” said Silverman.

Nonetheless, it’s Robertson, the Athletics’ former No. 1 prospect, who most interests the Rays.

Robertson is the lead piece in this transaction,” Silverman said. “It takes a large trade like this for us to be able to acquire someone of his talents.”

Powell isn’t on Robertson’s level as a prospect, but he wasn’t a throw-in, either.

He’s a speedy outfielder with an interesting bat profile, and one that we hope can develop a little bit more power. It’s a profile that is uncommon, but one that can often find success at the Major League level,” said Silverman. “He’s not going to overwhelm you in the stat box, but his value shows up in many different ways.”

Neither Robertson nor Powell has even played at Double-A yet, so neither of them are likely to help the Rays next year. Silverman says, though, that he expects the Rays’ offense to improve upon its AL-worst 612 runs scored next season, despite the departures of Zobrist, Escobar, Wil Myers and Matt Joyce.

A lot of that is based on our expectation that the players who are returning will perform better offensively than they did last year,” he said.

“If our players play to our expectation, and we get the contributions we expect from the players we’ve added, this should be a better offensive team. … This team should be competitive. It should be compelling. The talent level is certainly there. It just looks different than it has in years past.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Athletics Acquire Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar

The Rays have announced that they’ve traded Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for catcher/DH John Jaso, shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson, and outfield prospect Boog Powell. The Rays also announced that they would receive cash considerations, which Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets is $1.5MM.

USATSI_8035097_154513410_lowresIt’s an emotional and meaningful day as we bid farewell to Ben Zobrist and thank him for everything he’s meant to the Rays organization,” says Rays executive Matt Silverman. “Any description of his value, talent and character would understate how we feel about Ben, and we consider ourselves fortunate for all our great moments together.”

The Athletics entered the offseason with needs at both middle infield positions. They addressed one of those when they acquired Marcus Semien from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade, though Semien isn’t an established big-leaguer, and the versatile Zobrist can be moved around the field if Semien emerges. Or perhaps it’s Semien who will move around — he played third base in the big leagues and left field in the minors in 2014, and Slusser suggests that Semien could now be used “like a young Zobrist.” So acquiring Zobrist and Escobar certainly makes sense from a positional perspective.

The A’s pulling off a blockbuster trade for Zobrist and Escobar is surprising, however, given the trajectory of their offseason. They signed DH Billy Butler early in the winter but have spent much of the rest of it trading veterans, not acquiring them, sending Samardzija to Chicago, Josh Donaldson to Toronto, Brandon Moss to Cleveland, and Derek Norris to San Diego. The A’s also lost Jon Lester, Luke Gregerson and Jed Lowrie to free agency.

The Athletics aren’t interested in complete rebuilds, however, and acquiring Zobrist and Escobar (who the Athletics claimed on revocable waivers last August) should help, at least for 2015, in making up for the talent they lost previously in the offseason. The 33-year-old Zobrist has been one of baseball’s best players over the past several seasons, with four straight seasons of an fWAR of above 5.0. While his offense the past two years has been down from his 2008-2012 pace (slipping somewhat to .272/.354/.395 in 2014), his defensive talents and ability to play second base, shortstop and outfield make him tremendously valuable. He will be eligible for free agency after making $7.5MM in the last option season on the team-friendly extension he signed with Tampa in 2010. The Athletics can also extend Zobrist a qualifying offer after the season, potentially netting themselves a draft pick if he signs elsewhere.

Zobrist had also been connected to the Nationals and Giants this offseason. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out in December, however, Zobrist would have made sense for any number of teams.

Escobar, 32, hit .258/.324/.340 in 529 plate appearances with the Rays in 2014. In the past, much of his value has come from his above-average glove, although UZR liked his defense considerably less in 2014 than it did in the past. He signed a two-year deal last April that carries him through 2016 at a total of $12MM, and he also has a $1MM buyout on a $7MM option for 2017.

From the Rays’ perspective, a trade of Zobrist or Escobar seemed likely after the team reached agreement on a one-year deal with Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera will make $7.5MM in 2015, exactly the same as Zobrist, so trading him doesn’t seem to be primarily about shedding salary, but about getting something for a top player who’s eligible for free agency before the next time the Rays are likely to contend. The Rays could now use a combination of Cabrera, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe in the middle infield.

The Rays’ haul is considerable, as one would expect given Zobrist’s considerable talents. Jaso, 31, appeared in 54 games at catcher and 32 at DH last season, hitting .264/.337/.430. Given his solid hitting from the left side, Jaso is valuable at either position. He tells John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group (on Twitter) that the Rays have told him they want him to mostly DH while occasionally filling in at catcher. That would leave Rene Rivera as the Rays’ primary backstop.

Jaso was a semi-regular player for the Rays in 2010 and 2011 before they traded him to Seattle. He’s projected to make $3.3MM in 2015, his last season before he’s eligible for free agency. Jaso missed the end of the season last year with concussion issues but is expected to be healthy heading into the 2015 season.

The real jewel here, though, is Robertson, who MLB.com and Baseball America rank as the Athletics’ top prospect MLB.com also ranks him the No. 85 prospect in baseball overall. The 20-year-old also, obviously, would have qualified as Oakland’s top young shortstop after the A’s traded Addison Russell last year. Robertson, who the A’s drafted in the first round in 2012, hit .310/.402/.471 in 642 plate appearances with Class A+ Stockton in 2014, winning praise for his line-drive stroke on offense and his sure-handedness on defense. The loss of Robertson is another hit to the Athletics’ farm system that lost plenty of talent in the Samardzija deal with the Cubs last summer, although the addition of Franklin Barreto in the Donaldson trade should help with the middle infield depth they’re losing.

Fellow 2012 draftee Powell, meanwhile, ranks No. 11 on MLB.com’s list. Powell (who isn’t related to the fellow lefty-hitting outfielder and former Orioles great of the same name) hit a terrific .343/.451/.435 in 381 plate appearances with Class A Beloit and with Stockton in 2014. He was, however, suspended for 50 games in July for testing positive for an amphetamine. He doesn’t have an outstanding arm, but has good speed (though he hasn’t translated that speed into good basestealing ability yet) and could stick in center field.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report that a deal sending Zobrist and Escobar to Oakland was imminent. Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to tweet that the Rays would get Jaso and two prospects in the deal. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted that Robertson was involved in the deal, while ESPN’s Keith Law tweeted that Powell was in the trade.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Rays Sign Asdrubal Cabrera

The Rays have announced that they’ve signed middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year deal. The Octagon client will make $7.5MM.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia PhilliesThe Rays already had Yunel Escobar at shortstop and Ben Zobrist to play second, but after they reached agreement with Cabrera, they shipped both Escobar and Zobrist (who also will make $7.5MM next season) to Oakland. That should free the Rays’ middle infield for Cabrera, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe.

Cabrera, 29, hit .241/.307/.387 in 553 plate appearances with the Indians and Nationals last season. He rated as below average defensively at shortstop, and mostly played second base with the Nationals, who already had Ian Desmond at shortstop. Cabrera ranked 23rd on MLBTR’s list of this offseason’s top 50 free agents, just ahead of Jed Lowrie as the top middle infielder available (not including Hanley Ramirez). That such a player would only receive a one-year deal is somewhat surprising (Lowrie, for example, got three years and $23MM), but the contract will give Cabrera another shot at free agency next year, when he’ll still only be 30.

Cabrera is the first significant signing for the Rays this offseason. The Rays have added Ernesto Frieri and Michael Kohn on big-league deals, also trading Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Joyce, Joel Peralta and Sean Rodriguez in an attempt to remake a team that won 77 games with the franchise’s highest ever payroll.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the contract was done, and that it was a one-year, $7.5MM contract (Twitter links). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports originally tweeted that an agreement was in place. Heyman first tweeted that a deal was close.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



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.