One rival executive calls Ben Zobrist “the Andrew Miller of position players,” explaining that the Rays’ super-utility man makes sense for all 29 other clubs.
The fit for the Nationals, in particular, is almost perfect - and the team’s need for Zobrist only increased with the news that right fielder Jayson Werth will undergo surgery on his right shoulder Friday and miss at least 2 to 3 months.
Yet, the Nats are not actively pursuing Zobrist, according to major-league sources – not pursuing him even though he would provide a significant upgrade at second base and protection in an outfield that also includes the oft-injured Bryce Harper.
If I were Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, I would reconsider.
Yes, the Rays want a significant return for Zobrist, who turns 34 on May 26 but will be a bargain at $7.5 million next season. The Nats, mindful that Zobrist is entering his free-agent year, consider the price to be too high, sources say.
OK, but does a potential World Series team really intend to open the season with Danny Espinosa at second and rookie speedster Michael Taylor potentially replacing Werth in right?
In fairness, the answer might not be that simple.
The Nats almost certainly do not want to trade a prospect such as right-hander A.J. Cole in a deal for a one-year rental. They could make Zobrist a qualifying offer at the end of the season, but already have five other potential free agents: right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, center fielder Denard Span, shortstop Ian Desmond and reliever Tyler Clippard.
Qualifying offers to those five alone likely would total about $90 million. And while none of the 34 players to receive qualifying offers the past three years accepted, the Nats might not be willing to risk even three or four such proposals.
Thus, clubs such as the Giants and Cubs might be willing to give more for Zobrist, knowing they would extend him a qualifying offer. Some execs doubt that the Giants can build a quality package if they refuse to include right-hander Kyle Crick or catcher Andrew Susac. The Cubs, though, certainly have the prospect power to get Zobrist, and other teams do, too.
The Nats are one of those teams. They’re deep in young pitching. They’ve got a second-base prospect, Wilmer Difo, who might be only two years away from the majors. They’re in decent shape long-term – but built to win now.
If I were Rizzo, I would go get Zobrist and worry about the consequences later.