The Nationals have reached out to the Athletics to express preliminary interest in super-utilityman Ben Zobrist, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (Twitter link). The teams do not appear to be nearing anything, per the report.
The idea behind the Nats’ interest, it would seem, is fairly straightforward: Zobrist would be expected to slot in at left field for Washington in the near term, filling in for the injured Jayson Werth. Then, he’d be available all around the diamond when Werth returns.
Further, the versatile Zobrist would function as something of a general insurance policy for the rest of the season. Denard Span and Anthony Rendon have both battled fairly notable maladies of late, though they’re both healthy and active now, and injuries can of course pop up at any time with any player. Having Zobrist on hand would mean the team could mix and match as needed while still maintaining productivity across the lineup.
It is worth bearing in mind that general managers Mike Rizzo and Billy Beane have matched up quite a bit on deals in recent years. Of course, many other teams have similar reasons for interest in Zobrist, who has been among the game’s most productive all-around players while spending time all over the field. There will be no shortage of suitors, some of whom (like the Nationals) may be interested in striking a deal early, which should obviously be good for the Athletics.
If you’re looking for even more granular reasons that Washington would be motivated to add a fairly premium piece like Zobrist, despite having reasonable options at the positions in question, remember that youngster Michael Taylor — who has seen quite a bit of action filling in for Span and now Werth — entered the year with 37 days of MLB service under his belt and has been up for much of the season. An opportunity to send him back down for an extended stretch could be enough for D.C. to gain an extra year of control, which would reduce the sting of losing the young talent required to pry loose Zobrist (or some other Werth fill-in).
Zobrist has long made sense for the Nationals in some form or another: I suggested they could pursue him last summer (before they added Asdrubal Cabrera) and thought an offseason deal could also have materialized (which, indeed, Washington did consider to at least some extent). But that was before the team added Yunel Escobar and went on to witness a rebirth of Danny Espinosa. To be sure, the idea of gaining a temporary outfield replacement, highly valuable utility piece, and down-the-line infield injury protection in one fell swoop is tantalizing in its own right. But the addition of Zobrist would also theoretically free the team to trade Ian Desmond, who was reportedly rather aggressively shopped to the Mariners over the winter.