Ben Zobrist already has many clubs interested in acquiring his services this winter, but the New York Mets, however, should back off.
By Gregg Cambareri
No one said replacing Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes would be easy.
Okay, before the negatives are brought to light, I’ll admit, there’s plenty to like about Zobrist. There’s a reason why the Mets met with his representatives recently and were connected to him before the trade deadline last summer.
He’s versatile, capable of playing second, short, and the corner outfield positions. He’s a switch hitter, with a career .355 OBP–something that fits GM Sandy Alderson’s get-on-base philosophy. He has 6 career seasons with a WAR of 4.6 or higher.
Yes, there will be plenty of fans and media campaigning for the Mets to acquire him, but it just isn’t sensible.
First off, Zobrist turns 35 in May and is likely to receive a three or four year pact. A player entering his mid 30s is likely to decline, evidenced by his WAR which has decreased in four consecutive seasons. That doesn’t mean Zobrist won’t be able to contribute to a contending club next season, but the Mets are in a position to contend for the foreseeable future, and a declining player isn’t ideal, especially when highly touted prospect Dilson Herrera could become the second baseman of the future.
Speaking of Herrera, a deal for Zobrist likely means he’s either traded, or spends more time in AAA Las Vegas, where he’s already played exceptionally well. Therefore, his path to the bigs is blocked.
To play devil’s advocate, a finished product in Zobrist does make sense for a win now team like the Mets, but the intriguingly high upside of Herrera warrants playing time. Herrera, whose just 21 years old, has been touted as a future all star by some scouts, and is cost controllable for several more seasons to come. It’s certainly risky in hoping Herrera pans out, but the talent he’s displayed at such a young means he should be the opening day second baseman.
Oh, that’s right–Herrera is cost controllable.
Despite playing in the largest media market in America, Mets ownership still maintains a payroll in the middle tier of the league. Still feeling the effects of the Bernie Madoff disaster, the Wilpon/Katz conundrum will likely have an opening day payroll only slightly higher than last year’s $101 million.
In relation to Zobrist, this is noteworthy, as he’s likely going to command $12-15 million per season over the next three or four years. If money wasn’t an issue, signing a player of Zobrist’s quality would obviously be easier.
The Mets are better off going with the cost controllable Herrera and spending their money on outfield help, bullpen additions, and filling the bench with quality veterans. Juan Lagares’s struggles against right handed pitching mean a platoon partner in center could be useful.
Now a free agent, Tyler Cliparrd is unlikely to return next season. The Mets will also have to make a decision whether to tender Addison Reed a contract. Regardless of whether both, neither, or one return, it is imperative that the Mets target at least one legitimate late inning arm. The money Zobrist will command probably buys two solid relievers.
The only position in which the Mets could use an upgrade at is shortstop, a position in which Zobrist has 229 career games played. Wilmer Flores can handle the position from an offensive standpoint. A late game defensive replacement could give the Mets a nice combination at short, similar to what was accomplished last year with Ruben Tejada (who may or may not be tendered a contract this winter).
Signing an aging Zobrist to platoon at short for $12+ million annually just does not make much sense.
Ben Zobrist is a valuable, jack of all trades player. His combination of positional versatility, high on base percentage, decent power, and playoff experience is going to land him a lucrative multi year contract.
If the Amazins were to sign him, it’s not the end of the world. He’s a win-now player on a win-now team.
However, given the Mets financial difficulties and logjams at the middle infield and corner outfield spots, he probably has more value to a club not named the Mets.
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