(Photo courtesy of www.theplayoffs.com)
(Photo courtesy of www.theplayoffs.com)

A day after the big trade of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, I’m still stunned and somewhat taken aback. I’ll admit it, part of my despair is based completely on sentimentality — Ben Zobrist is my favorite baseball player. Don’t get me wrong, I knew one of the two was destined for the trade block after Tampa Bay signed free-agent middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. However, I certainly wasn’t prepared for a deal like this.

Truth be told, a trade involving one of the most beloved players in franchise history is a difficult pill to swallow. Tack on another pillar of the Rays middle infield, and one thing becomes abundantly clear — Tampa Bay gave up an awful lot on this fateful January day. Nevertheless, in order to properly analyze the deal with Billy Beane’s Athletics, emotion and sentimentality have to be pushed to the side.

The question du jour becomes this; Did the Rays receive enough in return? Let’s take a look.

Zobrist and Escobar’s Surplus Value

First, the return in the deal is former Rays C/DH John Jaso, $1.5M in cash considerations, and two prospects; INF Daniel Robertson and OF Boog Powell.

Next, we need to look at the player’s surplus value by means of wins above replacement (WAR). In layman’s terms WAR combines a players total contributions to a team at the plate, on the base paths, and in the field. If a player is projected for one win above replacement, he should be able to help his team win one more game than an available replacement player — be that a player on the bench or Triple-A. As Ian Malinowski (DRaysBay) put it, “A 3-WAR player is a high-quality starter. A 5-WAR player is an all-star. Anything above that and you’re getting into the MVP discussion.”

Zobrist hasn’t performed below 3.7 WAR since 2010 and is projected for a 4.2 WAR in 2015. Though Escobar performed at an all-time low last season (as far as WAR is concerned), he has boasted plus value since breaking into the league in 2007. When looking at their combined projected WAR value (per Steamer) you’re looking at a pair of players who should help the A’s win six more games than a replacement player, or players, in 2015.

In an excellent piece for Beyond the Box Score, Lewie Pollis writes that a win costs $7 million.

With that in mind, when you multiply Zobrist and Escobar’s projected 6 WAR by $7MM, the duo are worth somewhere in the ballpark of $42M — $29.4M for Ben, and $12.6M for Yunel. Subtract $12.5M owed to the pair by Oakland, and they have a combined surplus value of $29.5M ($21.9 for Zobrist and $7.6 for Escobar).

Malinowski projects a higher surplus value for Escobar,

If we think Escobar will be good for 550 plate appearances, that becomes 1.8 WAR in 2015. Escobar will be paid $5 million this year, and then is owed $7 million for 2016 with another $7 million team option for 2017.

Assuming a 10% decline (something arbitrary I’m inserting) in each season beyond 2015, and that surplus value in each future seasons is worth 8% less than it is right now (the number used by Victor Wang), we arrive at a surplus value for Escobar of $14 million.

For the sake of argument, let’s split the difference and say Escobar has a surplus value of $10.8M, bringing the combined surplus to around $33M, or $32.7M to be exact.

Jaso, Roberston, and Powell’s Surplus Value

Let’s start with John Jaso, since he will have an immediate impact on the Rays.

John Jaso

Jaso was productive at the plate for both the Mariners and Athletics following the 2012 trade from the Rays, posting wOBA of .372, .345, and .339 from the 2012 to 2014 seasons. The newest former Ray figures to spend the majority of his playing time as the DH — platooning with David DeJesus, and catching behind Rene Rivera. He may spend time at first base and in the outfield as well. Despite the health concerns associated with Jaso, thanks to a concussion in 2014, Steamer projects he will produce 1.5 WAR in 407-450 at-bats for a total value of $10.5M. Subtracting the $3.3M he is projected to make in this, his last arbitration season, Jaso is worth $7.2M in surplus value.

Daniel Robertson

Matt Silverman and the Rays are very high on Daniel Robertson — the Athletics former number one prospect,

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.”

According to Ben Badler (Baseball America), Robertson is a top-tier prospect, ranked in the top 50.

Evaluating his value is a bit harder since he’s a prospect. Kevin Creagh (Pirates Prospects) studied the subject, finding that a prospect in the 26-50 tier holds a surplus value of $18.12M. Creagh’s contemporary Victor Wang came up with a different surplus value for a similarly tiered player — $23.4M. If we take an average of those two values, Robertson’s estimated value over the span of his team controlled years is $20.8M.

Boog Powell

Boog Powell isn’t a top 100 prospect according to Baseball America, though he posed some outrageous numbers in Class-A ball last year, posting a .451 OBP in 83 games. …That is before getting suspended for amphetamine use. Powell is now considered one of the Rays top-30 prospects, and figures to start the year with Class-A Charlotte. Powell’s surplus value is around $1.5M if not lower — taking the fact that he doesn’t rank in the top 100 into account, while giving him the benefit of $1.5M surplus value.


As it stands, the Rays traded away $32.7M to Oakland for $29.5M in return — an approximate $3.2M loss for the Rays ($4.7M if you consider Powell to be a replacement level player, thus worth nothing in surplus value).

As Jeff Sullivan (FanGraphs) wrote of the Rays presumed reasons to move Zobrist now,

Zobrist is 33 years old. He hasn’t hit for power since 2012. This is his final year of team control.

Sullivan continued,

You never want to trade a Ben Zobrist, but the Rays knew they were going to, and they found appropriate value.

I contend, they found what they considered to be the appropriate value.

In the end Jaso is a Ray again, which could be good if he puts together a better-than-projected campaign in 2015. And yes, Silverman shored up the Rays future by acquiring a top prospect. Yet I still can’t help but feel let down by this trade overall, a feeling shared with many of you.

Source: Stats and projections via FanGraphs.


  • Analytics aside, as much as I miss players like David Price and Carl Crawford, this move hurts. Sure the Sun will still rise tomorrow, and my personal life hasn’t been effected, but a part of me feels unsettled by the trade. Zobrist represented everything right about professional baseball, and he’s truly an ambassador for the game. Zobrist told the Tampa Bay Times’ Matt Baker, “I was hoping that I would be able to stay in Tampa Bay for at least this year. I understand, of course, their perspective in trying to get some younger guys and fill some other holes. Obviously I understand the baseball side of it. It’s tough, but I’m thankful for all my time I was able to spend there. It was just a blessed time for our family. It’s a special season of our life that has just come to a close.“ Zobrist has mixed emotions about changing franchises, mentioning in the same article, “I think it’ll be fun to get to know new teammates and new fans and a new situation in Oakland. It’ll be exciting. But part of my heart is still stuck in Tampa Bay right now. It’ll take a little bit for me to move on.“
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