So It’s Ben Zobrist You Want

On Sunday, we talked about how badly the Dodgers need some help with left-side infield depth, thanks to disabling injuries to Justin Turner & Chone Figgins to go along with a season full of Hanley Ramirez health concerns and the age and injury history of Juan Uribe. Miguel Rojas is a glove-only type, Carlos Triunfel may not even be that, and we’re all best served by Erisbel Arruebarrena in Triple-A learning how to hit. That the Dodgers have been winning despite this fact is great, but it doesn’t gloss over the truth of the situation. You can’t count on Ramirez to be healthy. You can hope that Uribe is, but not more. You can’t depend on Turner, once he returns, to continue having a season wildly out of line with anything he’s done before.

So what do the Dodgers do to avoid the not-impossible scenario of Rojas and Figgins starting a playoff game? Over the next few weeks, we’ll look into the possibilities. Today we’re going to start with the most popular answer, which has been, unsurprisingly, to go trade for a Tampa Bay Ray. Not David Price, though. Ben Zobrist.

On the surface, it makes plenty of sense. Zobrist is a multi-positional veteran who has been to the playoffs four times, and has added value with his bat and on the bases. If you think this team needs “leadership,” he’s a good choice, and I’m only mostly saying that because he’s older and white, which is what far too many people think, even if subconsciously, a leader needs to be. (Hi, Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker!) Zobrist really does have a reputation as a solid clubhouse guy, so there’s that.

More importantly, he’s been fantastic on the field. Pairing solid defense with above-average offense (a career wRC+ of 118), Zobrist has turned in some incredibly valuable years, notably an 8.5 WAR 2009 and more than 5 in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Since arriving in Tampa Bay in a 2006 trade with Houston, his 991 career games with the Rays are second most only to Carl Crawford. If he’s primarily anything, it’s a second baseman, but he’s also started 237 games in right field, 184 more at shortstop, and at least 10 at first, left, and center. He’s not exactly young, having turned 33 last month, but he’s also only controlled through 2015 on a hilariously team-friendly $7.5m option. He’s a valuable player, and assuming the last-place Rays pack it in this month and sell, Zobrist will be an appealing trade chip.

So what’s the problem? Well, there’s two, actually.

Everyone is going to want him

No, really. Everyone is going to want him. Think about how many contenders could use him to plug a hole. He could be San Francisco’s second baseman, since Brandon Hicks & Joe Panik aren’t working out and Marco Scutaro is fragile at best. He could be Toronto’s second baseman, allowing them to stop playing Steven Tolleson & Munenori Kawasaki. He could be St. Louis’ second baseman, because neither Mark Ellis nor Kolten Wong have worked out. He could be Oakland’s second baseman, because Punto & Alberto Callaspo & Eric Sogard are not solutions, and doesn’t he feel like an Athletic already? He could be Baltimore’s second baseman, because Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop aren’t exactly succeeding.

Or he could play all over for Kansas City or Atlanta or Seattle or the Yankees, all of whom have at least one or two holes to fill. Considering his track record, his inexpensive 2015 option, his versatility, and the number of teams who could use him, he’s not going to be cheap — especially since Tampa Bay could always just keep him and try to win next year.

But the fit on the Dodgers seems less clear. Dee Gordon bounced back so well in June from a down May that it’s difficult to see a scenario where he isn’t the starting second baseman all season. At most, you need a righty bat who can platoon once a week or so at second base — and that still may yet be Turner or Alex Guerrero — and obviously this team needs no help in the outfield, especially righty help when you can roll out Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Scott Van Slyke.

Zobrist has only four games under his belt at third base, and none since 2010, so he’s probably not an option there, though he seems to be about an average defensive shortstop. Maybe that’s how he’d fit in Los Angeles — start at short when Ramirez can’t, start for Gordon against lefties, and find his way into games otherwise in double switches. It’s not quite the glaring need other teams would have, but it’s something. Is that worth the surely high price — not Corey Seager or Joc Pederson, probably, but maybe Zach Lee or Chris Anderson along with a Paco Rodriguez or Jose Dominguez — it would take to outbid everyone?

Maybe, maybe not. But that sort of leads into the other concern, which is:

He may already be declining

OBP SLG wRC+
2012 0.377 0.471 137
2013 0.354 0.402 115
2014 0.341 0.400 112

His offensive numbers are a whole lot of “not headed in the right direction,” aren’t they? He’s hitting more grounders, he’s hitting fewer line drives, and he’s getting on base less and hitting for power less. It’s important to remember here that he’s still an above-average hitter, it’s just that the days of Zobrist being a secret superstar appear to be over.

I also can’t say that it’s encouraging when I see tweets like this from Jason Collette, part of the great Rays team at The Process Report:

At 33, after nearly a decade in the big leagues, it’s not surprising. Players age. Time marches on.

Again, of course, it’s not that Zobrist is bad or even below-average — he isn’t. Some team may acquire him in the next few weeks and be perfectly happy with what they receive, and potentially be happy to have him around in 2015, as well. If the Dodgers end up with him, I certainly won’t be unhappy that he can be around to provide support in the middle infield and off the bench. It’s just that unlike Price, who realistically only has a few landing spots, half the teams in baseball or more could use Zobrist. That’s going to make the price high, and many of those teams have bigger needs for him. If the cost is what we expect it might be, the Dodgers might not be the best fit here.

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello
Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.