The Miami Marlins apparently would like to be buyers at the trade deadline as long as they are reasonably close to the division lead. Miami sits 7.5 games back of the division, but this may not deter them from trading assets to acquire talent. But as president of baseball operations Michael Hill mentioned, Miami is uninterested in rental pieces and would like a player that has some team control on him as well. They also mentioned that they are interested in filling the second base position thanks to Rafael Furcal's potentially long-term injury.
It just so happens that there is one name available on the trade market who would be a major upgrade over anything Miami currently has and would be under team control beyond the 2014 season. The Tampa Bay Rays have been shopping Ben Zobrist around and are willing to trade him while he still retains value. His $7.5 million club option in 2015 is extremely cheap for a player who has averaged almost six Wins Above Replacement since 2011.
At the same time, Zobrist's value is criminally underrated because he brings it with defense and solid but unspectacular batting lines. Still, the production is hard to deny, especially in a pitcher's park like Tropicana Field; since 2011, Zobrist's .270/.360/.440 (.350 wOBA) line is the third-best park-adjusted line in baseball among second basemen, behind only Robinson Cano and Matt Carpenter (now a third baseman). He ranks second in WAR in that time period behind just Cano and essentially even with Dustin Pedroia.
So how much trade value would Zobrist have? Let's take a look at some projections and find out.
To estimate this, we can use Zobrist's rest-of-season projection from this year to estimate next year's value as well. ZiPS is projecting Zobrist to hit .263/.352/.411 (.338 wOBA) the rest of the way. Combine that with some decent defensive performance from a player who would have won a Gold Glove somewhere in the last three years had he stayed at one position long enough, and that is worth 1.8 WAR in 255 plate appearances the rest of the way.
What about next season's value? Zobrist has been an iron man who has rarely missed playing time in the last six seasons since he became a full-time starter for the Rays, so expecting 650 plate appearances is not out of the ordinary. If he gets there, he would be expected to put up 4.6 WAR next season.
If you put the value of wins between $5 million and $6 million in the next two years, then you're looking at something like $26 million in trade value for a guy of Zobrist's caliber. You can even tack on some value for the draft pick MIami could pick up as compensation for a qualifying offer. It just goes to show you that players with plus defense and an above-average bat can still be four-win All-Star players, which bodes well for the similarly-talented Christian Yelich.
Fit for Marlins
Zobrist's fit on the Marlins would be fantastic. He is capable of filling multiple positions, allowing Miami to distribute its minimal infield depth as needed. He could spell Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, although Zobrist is considered a below average shortstop. It would allow the Fish to platoon at multiple positions without committing backups for each player, as Zobrist could switch between said positions freely. It gives Miami significant flexibility with late-game defensive replacements as well.
Most importantly, it fills Miami's critical need for second base help. With both Furcal and Derek Dietrich injured, the Marlins are relying on Ed Lucas and Donovan Solano to play second base. That is fine for a non-contender, but if the Fish are serious about making a push, Zobrist would be a supreme upgrade on both players. The difference between Zobrist and Solano in the same amount of playing time that I granted in Zobrist's projection is 1.3 wins, which is about as good as it gets in terms of midseason improvements.
The fact that he is under team control on the very cheap next year is all the better. Miami can let Dietrich work on his defense freely in the minors while Zobrist holds the fort, and if the Fish fall out of contention in 2015 as well, they can flip Zobrist for a little bit of value as well. If they feel the need to, they can also attempt to re-sign him, though he may be on the decline.
The problem for the Fish is once again that the team has very little to offer. The Rays could use depth in their minor league system as well after a few years of bad drafts after their stellar picks from the mid-2000's, but outside of Andrew Heaney and Colin Moran, the Fish have no top-100 prospects to their name. Miami could throw a number of pitchers at the Rays, starting with Justin Nicolino and/or Adam Conley, who are the fringes of the top prospect lists. Jake Marisnick could be part of such a deal as well, although the Marlins would be concerned about trading an outfielder when Giancarlo Stanton has yet to commit to Miami.
A package of those three names might be worth a look for the Rays, but would the Fish offer so much of their pitching depth for 1.5 seasons of Zobrist? The Rays are getting offers from the Seattle Mariners that include infielder Nick Franklin, who would offer a direct replacement to the Rays. The Mariners and Giants also have better minor league depth than the Fish and thus have more to offer.
Acquiring Zobrist would be a dream acquisition for this team, but it might be out of reach for the Fish. But if they are looking to truly add to their roster, few trades would do better than this one.