To say that the Tampa Bay Rays have struggled this season would be an understatement. Once perceived as favorites to compete for the division, and even still considered to land one of two Wild Card spots, the season thus far has not gone as planned for General Manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon.
Currently, the team sits at 25-42, the worst record across both leagues. They have the worst run differential in the American League at -52. They are fourteen games back of the division-leading Blue Jays. Injuries have been a problem, and it seems as though there is very little that can be done to correct these issues. If there were such a thing as a pack-it-in season in St. Petersburg, the Rays are certainly staring it in the face right now.
To that end, it may come as no surprise that the Rays may receive some interest for Ben Zobrist, as Ken Rosenthal reported earlier:
Rival GM says #Rays’ Zobrist will draw trade interest from more teams than Price due to difference in $$$. Versatility appealing, esp in NL…— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 12, 2014
Since 2009, Zobrist has averaged 5.2 fWAR per season. He holds a career triple slash of .262/.352/.431, and he has been a plus-defender each of the past five seasons.
He also happens to be vastly underpaid, considering his production. This year, in his first of two option seasons, he is slated to receive just $7 million. In 2015, he is set to receive $7.5 million, with only a $500,000 buyout.
To say that Zobrist is valuable would be selling short the value that Zobrist has. He is an extremely desirable commodity across all facets; he plays good defense, he plays multiple positions, he hits for power, and is under contract through 2015 with very little risk.
Needless to say, he would be desirable to just about any team in either league. As Matt Sullivan mentioned last week, Zobrist would have his suitors if the Rays decided to move on, an idea that is becoming more and more likely as each day passes:
Zobrist has been the icon of what a Rays' player is during his nine seasons in the majors. He has shown exceptional versatility, playing every position except pitcher and catcher and givnig Tampa Bay elite defense at his two primary positions, second base and right field. He is also a switch-hitter with a strong eye at the plate and double-digit home run power.
There will be plenty of teams interested in adding such a versatile piece for the stretch run but the Rays will have a difficult time replacing his production next season. They do have some alternatives at second, but it will probably take a big return to motivate the Rays to part with Zobrist.
Should the Rays continue to struggle, and even if Zobrist isn't quite the player at 33 that he was at 28, he is still a highly valuable commodity, particularly in comparison to fellow teammate David Price, who comes with a higher price tag and only half a season of control.
It would likely take a disastrous stretch over the next eighteen days for the Rays to really consider moving on from either player, and even then the price in trade for either of them might be too steep for some teams. But make no mistake, both are valuable in their own way, but with one big distinction: Zobrist has been the better player, year-over-year, and he makes only slightly more in the next eighteen months that Price will make for the rest of this season.