In an article on now-former Washington Nationals' second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera signing a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays late last month, Washington Post columinst James Wagner wrote about the possibility that the Nats would deal for seemingly-available Rays' infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist with second base an obvious need in the nation's capital in 2015.
The Nationals, Wagner wrote, expressed interest in Zobrist, but, "... sensed, around the time of the winter meetings, that it would be too difficult to pry him away from the Rays."
In his ninth season in the majors with Tampa Bay in 2014, Zobrist, who turns 34 in May, put up a .272/.354/.395 line in a +5.7 fWAR campaign, but he is under team control for just one more year at $7.5M after the Rays picked up his options this winter.
As the WaPost's Wagner noted, though Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo, "... hasn’t often traded for players with only one year of control or less," the one "recent exception" was the deal for Cabrera last July when the Nats addressed a need at second with Ryan Zimmerman injured and Danny Espinosa the main option at second with Anthony Rendon at third in Zimmerman's absence.
Espinosa is currently the top option at second in the organization going into Spring Training.
Will Rizzo make a win-now move to get Zobrist or another second baseman and go for it in 2015?
What would it cost to get Zobrist?
Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo wrote about the market for the veteran "super utilityman" this past Sunday.
According to Cafardo, Zobrist, "... is being pursued seriously by the Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Cubs," and the Rays, "... are said to be asking for at least one top prospect and a mid-level one," in return.
Would the interested teams really consider dealing a top prospect and a mid-level one for one year of control of a soon-to-turn 34-year-old Zobrist, whose power has declined some in the past few seasons?
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal suggested in an article on Monday that any team that acquires the veteran utility man could make him a qualifying offer after the 2015 campaign and either get Zobrist, "... at a one-year bargain with a draft pick," if he turned down the qualifying offer, "... or a two-year deal in the $23 million range," if he took the QO, which Rosenthal assumes will be around $16M next winter.
Over at the SB Nation's Rays site, DRaysBay.com, the talk of a return on Zobrist started, predictably, with A.J. Cole, the Nationals' 23-year-old, 2011 4th Round pick, after they reasoned that top right-hander Lucas Giolito would be untouchable, as would Michael Taylor, the top outfield prospect in the organization after Steven Souza was dealt to Tampa Bay in the three-team trade with San Diego last month.
So Cole + a mid-level prospect depending on the Rays' needs/interests in return for one year of Zobrist guaranteed and then either a second year at $16M or a compensation pick? Is it worth it? Should Rizzo make that sort of win-now move?
Can the Nationals even top what the other teams rumored to be interested in Zobrist like the Giants, Angels and Cubs have to offer?
Can Rizzo find a younger, controllable major-league-ready second baseman somewhere out there that will cost less but can step in and play every day in 2015 for a team with legitimate postseason aspirations?
Should the Nationals target one of the Cuban-born infielders like Jose Fernandez, Hector Olivera or Yoan Moncada, who might be expensive, but would only cost cash and not prospects? Can the Nats take that risk that Fernandez or Olivera can play every day right away? Moncada seems like more of a long-term solution.
Or should the defending NL East Champs just let Danny Espinosa, Dan Uggla (and Emmanuel Burriss?) battle it out for the second base and utility jobs? Doesn't sound like Rizzo.