(Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America)
(Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America)

By this point, most of you are well versed in the trade rumors swirling around Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar. In short, with the $8M acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera, paired with the presence of middle-infield depth represented by Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe, someone will be dealt somewhere — that is, unless the Tampa Bay Rays plan to lean upon Cabrera as the primary DH. The question remains, who may be going where?

The tough decision may boil down to a pair of factors, which Roger Mooney (Tampa Tribune) highlighted in a Twitter conversation with me, Sunday: the trade market, and who would bring the best return.

In a weekend column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo defined exactly what that market looks like, naming the Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Cubs as the top suitors for Zobrist. Grant Doepel of the Fansided powered Blog Red Machine speculated the Reds would make a good trading partner for Escobar.

According to Cafardo, the Rays demands for Zobrist are said to be “at least one top prospect and a mid-level one” — something along the lines of the Howie Kendrick deal which brought pitching prospect Andrew Heaney to the Angels. While lacking a definition for a “mid-level” prospect, it could be assumed the Rays would be seeking a player near the bottom of a Top-100 list.

When looking at the four possible landing places for Zobrist, only one appears to be the better suited trading parter — that ball club on the north-side of Chicago.

And no Bruce Levine (CBS Sports), not just because,

There are the geographical coincidences – Zobrist is a Eureka, Illinois native and is represented by Chicago-based agent Alan Nero. There is history – Zobrist has played his entire career for Cubs manager Joe Maddon. More to the point, there is a need. Zobrist’s versatility would improve either club, although they both would lean upon his ability to play multiple positions rather than handing him a steady home.

I digress.

With the help of our friends at DRaysBay, I attempted to sort through the above named teams to show why the Cubs might be the best trading partner for Zobrist. To be clear, I still contend a trade of Escobar would make the most sense for a myriad of reasons (listed here).

Giants

According to MLB Trade Rumors and Peter Gammons, San Francisco’s interest in Zobrist has been well known — especially after the loss of Pablo Sandoval, and the inability to acquire Chase Headley. The Giants were able to snag Casey McGhee which alleviated some of the offensive and defensive pressure placed on the reigning World Series champs. Still, Zobrist could provide some help in the outfield corners, thus the ongoing rumors.

There is a caveat for the Giants, however; San Francisco doesn’t have the top prospect billing the Rays are seeking. They do have a quality defensive catching prospect in Andrew Susac, and Kyle Crick (a Top-50 pitching prospect) — both of whom come close to Zobrist’s market value. Yet, it is a stretch to assume the Giants would be willing to move either prospect.

Nationals

Washington was reported to have inquired on Zobrist during the Winter Meetings, however the Nationals were rebuffed by a high asking price. As Danny Russell (DRaysBay) contends,

Top-10 prospect Lucas Giolito is out of the question, as is up and coming center fielder Michael Taylor; however, a bidding war among National League clubs could lead Washington to put most other pieces on the table. The Rays could build around fringe Top-50 pitcher A.J. Cole, whose fastball and change look to be big league. You can never have too many quality arms, but Cole would only add to the traffic jam in Triple-A. The Rays recently completed a far more expensive trade with the Nationals in the Steven Souza deal last month.

Angels

The Angels would have been an obvious fit for Zobrist if they hadn’t already traded for infielders Josh Rutledge, Johnny Giavotella, and Taylor Featherston who are slated to fill the void at second.

While the Angels might be looking to improve their offense, which would make this specific trade rumor plausible, their roster is already loaded. Moreover, Anaheim’s prospect list is lacking with the exception of Heaney. Unless they are willing to deal some of their big league talent to compensate for what the Rays may seek, don’t expect Tampa Bay to take the bait.

Cubs

The Cubs would be the obvious fit for Zobrist. First off, Joe Maddon would know exactly how to us the utility man. Chicago also has the money to hand a qualifying offer to Zobrist at the end of his tenure which Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) thinks would make him even more valuable to an interested team. But (and it’s a big but) Javier Baez would likely play every day at second base, Zobrist’s presumed position of choice.

Still, the Cubs are equipped with a mouth watering list of prospects, like outfielder Albert Almora, catcher Kyle Schwarber, and 22 year-old Florda born DH/1B prospect Dan Vogelbach. The question remains, while the Cubs have what the Rays want, do they need Zobrist? You can see a list of some of the Cubs’ prospects, and their JAVIER ratings, below.

You’re looking at are the positions, JAVIER scores, and JAVIER categories for each of the top prospects in the best farm system in the game. (Courtesy of Dock of the Rays blog)
You’re looking at are the positions, JAVIER scores, and JAVIER categories for each of the top prospects in the best farm system in the game. (Courtesy of Dock of the Rays blog)

Poll: Who Will Get Traded — Ben Zobrist or Yunel Escobar — and Why?

I posed the question above Sunday, and a handful of you had your say. Thank you for that! The poll is still open and you can place your vote below. FYI, while the majority of what was written above dealt with Zobrist, there are a more than a few solid reasons the Rays should trade Escobar. I re-listed them below. 

  • Trading Zobrist now is, essentially, conceding the 2015 season before it even starts.
  • Steamer projects that both Escobar and Cabrera will produce similarly, culling a 1.5 +WAR. He also projects to a 100 wRC+ in 2015 — a shade ahead of Escobar — with a higher ISO (.146 vs .090) and possibly twice the home run tally. With a career .307 BABIP (.283 in 2013, and .272 in 2014), Cabrera pans out to be a middle infielder who, when compared to Escobar (.300 career, .281 in 2013, .282 in 2014), is more productive.
  • Relying upon Cabrera, while trading Escobar, gives the Rays flexibility to shed $19MM from the payroll over the next three seasons, while creating another spot in the middle infield for the tandem of Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe — and creating room for Ryan Brett, Hak-Ju Lee, or Tim Beckham in 2016.
  • The Rays also lose the risk of decline associated with Yunel’s age.
  • Finally, a great point was written on another blog: the Rays will pay $3MM (the difference between Cabrera and Escobar’s contracts) for the ability to acquire $7 million value (in the form of either a fringe-top-100 pitching prospect or several lower-ranked prospects).

[poll id=”4″]

Noteworthiness

  • Per Steve Adams (MLB Trade Rumors), Emilio Bonifacio is expected to sign with the White Sox for $4M. If you recall, the South Siders were linked with Ben Zobrist. It sounds like ChiSox went to the free-agent market instead of putting together a trade package with the Rays, because of Tampa Bay’s exceedingly large return for Zobrist. 
  • The Rays have inquired about Colby Rasmus, according to Steve Adams (MLB Trade Rumors). Adams reports, “Rasmus, of course, seems a bit of a curious fit for what appears to be a Rays team that is re-tooling, if not rebuilding. The team traded David Price in July before moving Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Joyce, Cesar Ramos and Wil Myers this offseason. They did, however, recently add Asdrubal Cabrera to play second base and still can trot out a rotation consisting of Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and (eventually, once he is recovered from Tommy John surgery) Matt Moore. In the meantime, Nate Karns and Alex Colome represent suitable solutions in the fifth spot of the rotation.”
  • DRaysBay wrote about the Rays/Rasmus inquiry. I’ll post more on the subject in a bit.
  • We’re still in the search for writers. Read about what we’re looking for (in a writer), and get in touch!

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