As the weather warms in June, so do the validity of trade rumors in baseball. With an above .500 record and the Cubs sitting in second place in their division, the team finds themselves as buyers instead of sellers for the first time in the Theo Epstein regime. The next on the list is someone the team tried to acquire during the off-season in utility player Ben Zobrist.
Ben Zobrist instead ended up with the Oakland A’s, who currently own one of the worst records in baseball and have a host of players who may also appeal to the Cubs. Zobrist is the kind of player that can play all over the diamond and has experience at every position except pitcher and catcher. Zobrist fits the mold that the front office is looking for as a player who gets on base, has some pop and speed and is fairly solid on defense. Arismendy Alcantara was supposed to fill that role for the club this year, but a slow start offensively earned him a demotion to Iowa.
Right now, Zobrist would make the most sense in left field or the infield depending on who the Cubs move in any trades. Zobrist missed some time this season after surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus, but has since returned and has posted a line of .242/.310/.394 with one home run, 10 RBI and one stolen base. The injury is a cause for some concern and may lower his trade value a tick, but let’s take a look at Zobrist’s value.
In a deal just involving Zobrist, obviously his trade this off-season is the best one to analyze. Along with Zobrist, the A’s also acquired infielder Yunel Escobar and sent catcher John Jaso, prospects SS Daniel Robertson and OF Boog Powell and $1.5 million in cash to the Tampa Bay Rays. Zobrist was the headline acquisition in this deal and ultimately the only one the A’s kept after dealing Escobar to the Nationals for reliever RHP Tyler Clippard four days later. So essentially, for Zobrist and Clippard, the A’s gave up a decent amount. Jaso has been more of a designated hitter than catcher lately thanks to concussion issues, but provides value as a career .272 hitter against right-handed pitchers. Robertson was considered the A’s top prospect after trades of Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to the Cubs thinned their system considerably. Robertson is a few years away, but has some pop and is solid on defense. Powell is a borderline top 10 prospect who has some speed and can hit, but was suspended for testing positive for drug use.
Using this trade as a guide and after giving up a lot for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel last year, it would be hard to imagine that A’s general manager Billy Beane would not be looking for a lot for Ben Zobrist, especially to a team that was so close to acquiring him already and has a manager that is very fond of him. With that being said, Beane likes young, controllable and cheap talent.
With arm injuries felling his young pitchers like Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, a young pitcher would likely be a must. Unfortunately, the Cubs have some interesting arms with that kind of talent, but none that are close to the majors and trading Kyle Hendricks at this point would be weakening their rotation. However, the Cubs have an abundance of young hitters to trade and Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Dan Vogelbach or Gleyber Torres might fit the bill. I think Baez might be pushing it for an aging Zobrist, but a player like Vogelbach and a young upside pitcher like Pierce Johnson might be enough. Starlin Castro is signed at a reasonable rate over the next few years and could also be a possibility.
Another trade to consider value was the deal made for Howie Kendrick in the offseason. Kendrick, a second baseman does not have the versatility of Zobrist, but is a similar hitter and his WAR of 5.3 vs. Zobrist’s 4.9 makes them a similar value. For one year of Kendrick, the Dodgers gave up Andrew Heaney, a top pitching prospect they acquired from the Marlins which reinforces that the Cubs are likely to give a top prospect or a few high upside players to acquire Zobrist.
Another possibility in a deal for Zobrist would be if the Cubs were to make a multi-player deal to fill other needs at the same time. As mentioned above, the A’s have a lot of pitchers in the bullpen and rotation that would improve the club and may push the club over the top in terms of contention. The last such a blockbuster type deal to happen in baseball came when the Dodgers and Red Sox completed a nine player deal that saw the Red Sox shedding salary and the Dodgers improving their roster.
In the deal the Red Sox sent RHP Josh Beckett, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Carl Crawford, INF Nick Punto and cash to the Dodgers for 1B James Loney, OF Jerry Sands, INF Ivan DeJesus Jr. and RHP Allen Webster and RHP Rubby De La Rosa. From the Dodgers side, Loney was essentially filling Gonzalez’s spot and Sands was a throw in, but the main haul was Webster and De La Rosa who were highly ranked pitchers in the Dodgers system. If the Cubs were to pull off a major blockbuster for the A’s for Zobrist and any number of pitchers, Baez, Almora and Carl Edwards Jr. would likely have to be included.
Thanks to the Cubs recent history in deals with Billy Beane and the raised cost of trades in general lately, the Cubs are likely going to have to pay a steep price for Ben Zobrist. At 34 and after a knee injury, it might be a stretch to meet Beane’s asking price for the infielder, especially for a team that has a lot more needs on the pitching front to be competitive.
With fans getting rather attached to the Cubs minor leaguers, it might be a rough trade deadline to give them up, but maybe a necessary evil for the Cubs to contend this season.
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