As we’ve mentioned several times here at Riverfront Ball over the last couple of weeks, the Cincinnati Reds have a few big holes to fill in their lineup and in the field, and the prospect of addressing them all through the trade market is more than a little daunting. One potential addition who could help in multiple places, though, is Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist.
Zobrist was something of a novelty five years ago because he emerged as a star at the age of 28, earning an All-Start berth and some MVP votes for a Tampa team that built on their surprising 2008 finish with another strong season. Many thought Zobrist was a flash in the pan given his relatively advanced age and the fact that he hadn’t caused much stir as a prospect, but four of his five full Major League seasons have seen way above replacement-level production at the plate and solid defense in the middle of the Rays’ infield.
Zobrist has also logged significant time in the outfield, meaning that he could provide Cincinnati with some decent beef at bat while covering whatever defensive needs are most pressing at any given moment. The versatility of having a bopper who can play shortstop, second base, and in the outfield could mean the difference between making the playoffs or not for a team like the Reds who have a deep starting staff but continue to struggle at the plate. Zobrist is attractive financially, as well, since he potentially will be a free agent. The Rays hold a $7.5 million option and a $500K buyout, so an acquiring team could hold on to him for another year if the second half goes well or a long-term need arises. At 33 and always in shape, Zobrist should have a few good seasons left before serious decline hits.
So, what would the Reds have to give up in order to land Zobrist? That’s the sticky part of this equation, because while the Rays are probably out of the race at this point, the teams at the top of the AL East have had a rough stretch of injuries recently, so Tampa might be clinging to a faint hope of making the playoffs. They also have to realize how valuable a player like Zobrist is to contending teams in a time when offense is hard to come by, so don’t be surprised if a bidding war of sorts develops over the next couple of weeks.
If they trade Zobrist, the Rays will obviously look for the best deal they can get, and my guess is that the Reds would have to dip into their stock of starting pitching talent to win the bidding war. Tony Cingrani‘s name comes up a lot in these types of discussions, as in Jesse Borek‘s piece earlier this month, but I’m not sure that he would be enough of a prize for the Rays to move Zobrist. Cingrani has had a rough 2014, and even the Reds seem unsure about what to do with him. Tampa would likely want an add-on were Cingrani the key to a Zobrist trade or, more likely, would look to one of the plums in the Reds’ minor league system (Stephenson, Winker). It wouldn’t even be too surprising if some name from the Reds’ big league rotation are thrown around.
In the end, the price for Zobrist might be too steep, especially for conservative general manager Walt Jocketty. Still, Zobrist is a name the Reds should be considering as the lineup continues to crumble, and as July wears on.