Ben Zobrist emerged as one of the most desired players on trade market these last few weeks. The Tampa Bay Rays’ recents adjustments to their roster appeared to signal the end of Zobrist’s time with the team and yesterday, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics.
Zobrist’s contract expires after the 2015 season so it made sense that the Rays part ways. Their postseason hopes look bleaker than they have been in a long time, and getting something for the best super-utility player in baseball served their best interest. Zobrist’s versatility means that he could improve almost any contender in baseball, and it is no surprise that he was connected to many teams this offseason before a deal came together.
One team that could have especially used Zobrist is the Washington Nationals. The reigning National League East Champions, the Nationals could have used Zobrist for his stout hitting at multiple positions.
The only spot on the baseball field where the Nationals have regular playing time available is second base. Conveniently, this is the place Zobrist has been used the most in his career. However, if Zobrist had traded to the Nationals, he could also have seen significant time in the outfield.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, right fielder Jayson Werth will take 2-3 months to recover from shoulder surgery, making him at best ready for Opening Day. Meanwhile, left fielder Bryce Harper seems to require in his contract a yearly stint on the disabled list. Both play hard and additional injuries for either is always to be expected. Zobrist could have been the guy to help the Nationals make those injuries less upsetting.
If the Nationals had acquired Zobrist he would have been their primary second baseman and also play both corner outfield positions when needed. When he headed to the outfield, Danny Espinosa would take over second base duties.
Replacing Werth or Harper with Zobrist for a short period of time would be only a small setback to the team. While the Nationals would lose some power, Zobrist is an impressive hitter in his own right who would also provide better defense than both Werth and Harper.
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Harper has not yet broken out and reached his potential, but he has still been a very good hitter for the Nationals when healthy. Overall, his slash line has been .272/.351/.465. Zobrist, meanwhile, actually has very similar numbers for his career, hitting to a .264/.354/.429 line while playing in a worse hitter’s ballpark. Especially since Harper is so injury prone, him and Zobrist offer far more similar offensive numbers than advertised.
Other than trading Ross Detwiler to the Texas Rangers–as well as letting closer Rafael Soriano and first baseman Adam LaRoche would in free agency–the Nationals have been quiet this offseason. That is a bit strange considering their poor playoff performance after finishing with such a great regular season record.
You might think they would make some move to get better, but they have not done anything. Werth’s shoulder surgery could be the wake-up call this team needs to realize they need more than the 2014 roster returning for a sequel.
Less than two weeks into 2015, Zobrist has already found a new home. He is scheduled to earn only $7.5 million this season, with the Athletics having no obligation to keep him beyond this season. Oakland is getting a valuable commodity and an underpaid player anyone could afford. The Nationals simply were not quick enough to get him.
The Washington Nationals needed Ben Zobrist. He would have given them security, an upgrade at second base, a great bargain, a seasoned veteran, and a better overall team in 2015. Passing on Zobrist was a missed opportunity, and one they may regret.