After signing Asdrubal Cabrera, Rays open to moving Zobrist and Escobar
Prior to yesterday, the Rays fielded a perfectly acceptable double play tandem in Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist. But after reportedly signing Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year, $8 million deal, a crowded infield that also included Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe is even more congested. Thus it appears likely that either Escobar or Zobrist will be on the move.
In the wake of the Cabrera signing, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted that the Rays are “open to trading Zobrist and/or Yunel Escobar.” There is the possibility that Tampa Bay could simply decide to hold on to its glut of middle infielders, with the versatile Zobrist getting more regular playing time in the outfield, but Rosenthal notes that this appears to be an unlikely final outcome.
Zobrist is a great player owed just $7.5 million in his final year before free agency and will be the trade possibility generating the most calls in the Tampa Bay front office. The 33-year-old has recently been tied to the Giants but his affordable price tag and positional flexibility makes him a fine fit nearly anywhere. The Nationals are another speculated landing spot for Zobrist, given their otherwise strong depth chart has Danny Espinosa penciled in at second base. But James Wagner of the Washington Post writes that the Nationals have gotten the sense that the asking price would be too high for them to pry Zobrist from the Rays.
Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Tyler Clippard are all free agents at the end of the year and the club reportedly offered Zimmermann and Desmond to the Mariners for Taijuan Walker and Brad Miller earlier this offseason. Clippard’s name was also aggressively pushed in trade discussions during the winter meetings. Despite projecting to have one of baseball’s deepest clubs this season, the Nationals front office is seemingly more inclined to unload one of their impending free agents in order to maintain a balanced roster beyond 2015. Sacrificing young talent to acquire one season of Zobrist doesn’t appear to fall in line with Washington’s plans.
For a team like the Mets, who have been rumored to be in search of a shortstop, Zobrist might not be the ideal fit. Zobrist has shown that he can serve as a shortstop in a pinch, but Mike Puma of the New York Post tweeted that the Mets don’t view him as an everyday shortstop. Puma notes that the club doesn’t see Escobar as a fit either, but for other potential trade partners, Escobar could be an appealing alternative to Zobrist given that he’s affordable and more than a one-year rental.
Escobar’s offensive production has fluctuated since the start of the decade, as his True Average floundered in the .230s in 2010 and 2012 but he posted marks above the league average for the position in 2011, 2013 and 2014. The bat has proven to play at the position and pairs with a league-average glove at the six-hole, so the $12 million owed to Escobar over the next two seasons (with a $7 million team option and $1 million buyout for 2017) looks like a reasonable gamble.
However, Escobar just turned 32 in November and all the major advanced fielding metrics suggest that the Cuban shortstop lost more than a few steps on the dirt in 2014. Despite never profiling as much worse than a league-average shortstop, Escobar was worth more than 14 runs below average by FRAA last season and ranked last in the league in both DRS and UZR. Some regression should probably be built in when projecting his future defensive value, but perhaps teams should reassess the notion that they’re getting an adequate defensive shortstop when formulating a trade proposal.
Orioles showing interest in Colby Rasmus
With Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz gone, the Orioles have done very little to replenish a lineup that posted the fourth-best True Average in baseball last season. Sure, the offense should get some internal reinforcements if Chris Davis can rebound from his poor 2014 showing or if Manny Machado and Matt Wieters are able to stay on the field, but some of that added production could easily be given back if Steve Pearce comes tumbling back to earth.
The Orioles just brought back Delmon Young on a cheap one-year deal, but he still figures to be no more than a part-time DH who can also serve as a right-handed bat off the bench or as an emergency corner outfielder. Between the two corner outfield spots and DH, the Orioles are currently slated to mix it up between Pearce, Young, Alejandro De Aza, and David Lough. Pearce should be able to hold down a starting spot if he can retain even a fraction of the gains that he made during his breakout season, but the rest of the options are uninspiring.
Hence, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes that the Orioles have legitimate interest in free-agent outfielder Colby Rasmus and Jon Morosi of FOX Sports notes that club has also shown interest in Nori Aoki and Ichiro Suzuki.
Kubatko writes that the team believes it can sign Rasmus to a one-year contract in the $5 million-$8 million range—the type of deal that would allow him to re-establish his value and angle for a bigger payday next offseason. Rasmus is just a year removed from a 4.1 WARP season, so there would be considerable upside for Baltimore, but there’s also some major red flags associated with a player whose strikeout rate has accelerated from 23.8 percent to 29.5 percent to 33 percent the past three seasons.