Should the Angels Halt their Pursuit of Ben Zobrist?


The Tampa Bay Rays made a splash in the free agent pool last week when they inked Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year deal. The Cabrera signing makes veteran second baseman Ben Zobrist expendable. The Rays have been shopping the super utility man since last summer, but the talks appear to be intensifying as we inch closer to the upcoming season. The 33-year-old offers significant value to the majority of clubs in baseball, but according to Nick Cafardo, the Giants, Nationals, Cubs, and Angels have been the most aggressive suitors for Zobrist.

More from Halo Hangout

Originally a 6th round selection of the Houston Astros in 2004, Ben Zobrist has been one of the big reasons the Rays have developed into a perennial contender over the past 9 seasons. Zobrist may not have a single standout tool, but his combination of skills allows him to be one of the most useful players in the league. Zobrist has made two All-Star appearances for the Rays, finished in the top 20 of MVP voting three times, and helped lead the Tampa Bay Rays to the postseason four times. Zobrist has proven to be a very productive offensive player over the course of his career. The Eureka, IL native has averaged 17 home runs, 76 RBI’s, 16 stolen bases, and a .270 batting average since becoming a full time player in 2009.

Ben Zobrist’s defensive versatility is perhaps his most alluring trait. Zobrist has seen time at every position apart from pitcher and catcher during his 9-year career. Last season alone, he played 79 games at second base, 54 games as an outfielder, and another 31 at shortstop. When you Google the term “Swiss Army knife,” a picture of Zobrist pops up. Zobrist is the rare super utility man who offers quality offensive production. This makes him extremely desirable to nearly every team in the big leagues. Zobrist has posted at least 4.6 wins above replacement every season since 2009, and twice during that span he has toped 8.0.

The Angels decision to trade All-Star second baseman Howie Kendrick has left a glaring hole up the middle. The likelihood of Grant Green or Josh Rutledge developing into an All-Star second baseman is slim. Adding Zobrist would fill the hole Kendrick left in the lineup when he was dealt to the Dodgers. Zobrist is very similar to Kendrick offensively; as they both are capable of hitting 10-15 home runs, driving in 70 runs, and swiping 15 bags. The switch-hitting Zobrist would be the ideal number two hitter in the Halos lineup.

Jun 8, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) throws the ball to first for an out against the Seattle Mariners at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I believe acquiring Ben Zobrist would immediately make the Angels the front-runners to win the World Series in 2015. However, I think the Halos would be foolish to trade for Zobrist.

Ben Zobrist resembles Howie Kendrick in many ways, including Kendrick’s contract situation. Zobrist is set to earn $7.5 million in 2015, and he will hit the open market after the season. The Angels were unwilling to extend Kendrick this offseason, opting to trade him. It has been speculated the Angels’ brass believed at 31-years-old Kendrick was unlikely to match his 2014 production again. Zobrist will turn 34 this season, and if Kendrick was thought to be too old, you have to figure the same will be said of an even older Zobrist.

Ben Zobrist has put together some very impressive seasons in Tampa Bay, but 2014 was not one of them. He had his worst season statistically since 2010. Zobrist posted his lowest RBI total, and tallied the fewest stolen bases since he became an everyday player in ’09. His slugging percentage dipped below .400 for the first time since 2010. His 10 home runs tied for his lowest output since 2008. The postseason has never been kind to Zobrist, as he boasts a career .212 batting average in October. Zobrist’s numbers are down across the board over the last two seasons. It is fair to wonder if Zobrist will ever produce similar numbers to those that made him an MVP candidate in 2011.

Despite his declining offensive production, Zobrist is a very valuable commodity, and he is sure to fetch a nice a return for the Rays. His ability to man multiple positions makes him a very appealing target for teams in the National League. While it is not clear exactly what the Rays are seeking in return, you can bet the package will feature at least one top-notch prospect. The Angels’ farm system is on par with those of the Giants and Nationals, but the Cubs possess some of the brightest young stars in the game. The Halos would most likely have to offer top pitching prospects Sean Newcomb or Andrew Heaney in any trade scenario. The fact that Zobrist offers more value to National League clubs may prompt the Giants, Nationals, and Cubs to offer packages the Angels are unwilling to match.

More from LA Angels News

I personally love the way Ben Zobrist plays the game, but I do not think the Angels should pursue a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Angels lineup is already so gifted offensively that they can still be a World Series contender with Grant Green or Josh Rutledge at second base in 2015. Also, Green has developed the ability to play all over the infield, and last season even saw time as an outfielder.

Ben Zobrist is the best super utility man in baseball, but if the Angels did trade for him, he would likely play at least 140 games at second base. The Halos already have quality starters at nearly every position, thus Zobrist’s defensive versatility would be wasted in the big A.

While it would be nice to have a player like Ben Zobrist, at this point, he is a luxury the Halos cannot afford. Jerry Dipoto has done a fabulous job making the Angels not only viable in the short term, but the long as well. However, his hard work could all be undone by dealing away one of the Halos top pitching prospects for a 33-year-old second baseman entering the final year of his contract.

My gut tells me Zobrist will be traded prior to the start of the 2015 season to either the San Francisco Giants or the Chicago Cubs. The Giants are desperate for star power after losing Pablo Sandoval earlier this offseason. Zobrist’s former skipper Joe Maddon manages the Cubs, and nobody knows what Zobrist is capable of better than Maddon. The Cubs have arguably the best collection of prospects in baseball, so they have to be considered the favorites at this juncture.

Next: Hall of Fame Angels