Saturday, November 23, 2013

If Only The Mets Could Trade For Ben Zobrist...

The Mets are looking for a shortstop.  The names that constantly pop up as potential free agent acquisitions at the position are Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew.  But Peralta is asking for a minimum of four years and $52 million and is supposedly getting attention from teams willing to give him that type of deal.  Stephen Drew could be had for less money and years, but he has an injury history that has caused him to miss nearly 200 games since 2011.  His production at the plate has also gone down, as his slash line has been .245/.322/.403 during those three injury-plagued seasons.

So if the Mets can't acquire a free agent shortstop (which would not require them to lose their protected first round draft pick), they might have to look to make a trade.  And there's one player who would fit in very nicely at short if the Mets could find a way to engineer a trade with his current team.

What do you think of Ben Zobrist starting at shortstop for the New York Mets?

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ben Zobrist is the longest tenured player on the Tampa Bay Rays.  He is the only member of the Rays currently under contract who has been with the team when they were still known as the Devil Rays.  He is also 32 years old and is earning $7 million in 2014.  The Rays have a $7.5 million option for Zobrist in 2015.  And we all know that Tampa doesn't keep their players around once they enter free agency.  They failed to re-sign and/or were forced to trade players like Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, B.J. Upton and James Shields.  They're also considering trading David Price - the only pitcher to win a Cy Young Award in a Rays uniform.

At $7 million, Zobrist would cost the Mets far less than the amount they would have to lock up to ink Peralta or Drew to deals.  But they would have to part ways with a few prospects and/or a major league player.  I have a deal in mind that might get it done.  Tell me, Mets fans.  Would you trade Rafael Montero and Ike Davis for Ben Zobrist?

Montero is an excellent control pitcher, averaging nearly five strikeouts per walk in three minor league seasons.  With half a season of Triple-A experience, he should be in the starting rotation very early in the 2014 season.  But the Mets have a surplus of good, young starting pitchers.  They can certainly afford to trade one of those hurlers, especially with a rotation that will include Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee and a veteran starter or two yet to be acquired.  At some point during the year, Noah Syndergaard will also be a part of the starting rotation.  That makes a pitcher like Montero expendable.  And we all know how Tampa Bay values quality arms.

Ike Davis clearly needs a change of scenery.  And Tampa has a hole at first base, as veteran James Loney is a free agent who will more than likely seek a multi-year deal and a big raise after hitting .299 with 33 doubles, 13 homers and 75 RBI for the Rays on a one-year, $2 million deal in 2013.  First base is normally a power position, something James Loney is not known for.  Ike Davis would certainly give the Rays a powerful bat at first base.  Of course, Davis hasn't been the same since the season-ending injury he suffered in May 2011.  But even with two poor first halves in 2012 and 2013, Davis has done fairly well after the All-Star Break in both seasons.  His second-half performances in 2012 (.255, 20 HR, 41 RBI in 66 starts) and 2013 (.290, 4 HR, 15 RBI in 32 starts) show that Davis can be a big power threat if he could ever combine those numbers over a full season.  Another plus is that Davis won't be 27 until a week before Opening Day, while Loney will be 30 in May.  Davis will also be under team control until 2017, and team control are two important words in Tampa's front office.

Sandy Alderson should not turn his back on my idea to trade for Ben Zobrist.

Ben Zobrist is 32 years old and will soon be pricing himself out of the Rays' future plans.  But he can play both middle infield positions and all three outfield positions.  He is also a switch-hitter who can be a great contributor at the plate.  Since 2009 - when he became an everyday player for the first time - Zobrist has produced three 30-double and three 20-HR campaigns.  He has also reached double digits in stolen bases every year, with a career high of 24 in 2010.  And of course, he draws a lot of walks, having surpassed 90 walks in a season three times since 2009.  Just eight players in Mets history have walked 90 or more times in a season.  Of those eight, only Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Carlos Beltran and David Wright had multiple 90-walk campaigns.  None of them did it three times, as Zobrist has done for the Rays.

Now let's look at the numbers for Jhonny Peralta, Stephen Drew and Ben Zobrist since 2009 and compare them to see which player has performed better at the plate for his respective team.

  • Peralta: 702 G, .267/.325/.414, 152 doubles, 71 HR, 368 RBI, 293 R, 5 SB, 535 K, 228 BB
  • Drew: 575 G, .257/.329/.424, 125 doubles, 52 HR, 266 RBI, 293 R, 26 SB, 469 K, 232 BB
  • Zobrist: 773 G, .269/.366/.446, 177 doubles, 89 HR, 402 RBI, 432 R, 85 SB, 533 K, 429 BB

It's not even close.  Of the three players, Zobrist has the highest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.  He also has the most doubles, homers, RBI and runs scored.  He has drawn almost as many walks as Peralta and Drew have combined and he has nearly three times the combined stolen base total posted by the other two.  Zobrist does have 64 more strikeouts than Drew, but it took him almost 200 more games to accomplish that whiff total.  And remember, Zobrist is only making $7 million in 2014, which is half of what Peralta will probably earn and surely less than the amount the injury-plagued Drew would command.  Oh, and did I mention that Zobrist plays five positions?  I did?  Well, it's worth repeating.

Finally, let's look at WAR, and show what it's good for in the case of Ben Zobrist.  Since 2009, Zobrist's 32.9 WAR is the third-highest in baseball.  The only players above him are Robinson Cano (34.2 WAR) and Miguel Cabrera (33.7 WAR).  Directly behind Zobrist are teammate Evan Longoria (31.5 WAR) and Joey Votto (30.5 WAR).  Cano, Cabrera, Zobrist, Longoria and Votto are the only players in baseball with a combined WAR of 30.0 or greater over the past five seasons, as Adrian Beltre has the sixth-highest WAR since 2009 at 29.4.  For the record, David Wright's 20.7 WAR since 2009 is the highest of any Mets position player.  The second-highest WAR on the Mets over the same time period is 10.3, which is what Angel Pagan produced despite not playing for the team after 2011.  Needless to say, the Mets haven't had many position players with high WARs since they moved to Citi Field.

If I were Sandy Alderson, I'd seriously consider doing more than just kicking the tires on this deal.  Tampa Bay has always prided itself on having lots of young talent in its starting rotation.  Rafael Montero would certainly qualify as a talented arm, something the Rays would need should they choose to trade David Price.  And Tampa could definitely use more power, as Evan Longoria was the only player on the team who hit more than 18 homers in 2013.  Ike Davis could provide a left-handed power bat to complement Longoria's right-handed pop.

Jhonny Peralta is pricing himself off the Mets' radar.  Stephen Drew is too much of an injury risk.  If only the Mets could trade for Ben Zobrist, they wouldn't have to worry about the almighty dollar or the training room.  Zobrist has been a great, versatile player for a number of years now.  He'd be wonderful as a Met.

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