Welcome to Rumbunter’s 12 Days of Trademas! On each day between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, we will profile a player or two who may be a potential trade target for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We will highlight both the cases for and against that player in order to give you the full scope of what acquiring that player might entail.
The first player we are highlighting in our ’12 Days of Trademas’ series is Ben Zobrist of the Oakland Athletics. Zobrist came to prominence as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. During his nine years with the club, he took on a variety of roles all over the diamond, much like the Pirates’ own Josh Harrison. Perhaps that doesn’t do it justice, as Zobrist has played every single position on the diamond save for catcher in his career. Over this past offseason, he was traded to the Athletics as the Rays started into rebuilding mode.
Now would be a good time for us to take a look at Zobrist’s career stats.
|TBR (9 yrs)||1064||4478||3850||565||1016||229||32||114||511||102||35||542||701||.264||.354||.429||.783|
|OAK (1 yr)||60||242||209||35||54||17||1||5||31||1||0||30||22||.258||.347||.421||.768|
Now that we’ve re-familiarized ourselves with his work, let’s see if Zobrist is a true fit for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The case for Zobrist
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Positional flexibility. That is the name of the game in the Neal Huntington era. From Harrison to Sean Rodriguez to Travis Ishikawa, Huntington has shown time and again to greatly value a player who can play more than one position. Zobrist has that in spades as we mentioned above. This year, Zobrist has plied his trade at second base and the corner outfield spots. That sounds tailor-made for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the looming Jordy Mercer injury news clouding the infield picture.
At the plate, Zobrist is a switch-hitter who does great work against left-handers. His career split of .285/.364/.443 is impressive, buoyed by a fantastic 18.3% strikeout rate. For their part, the current Pittsburgh Pirates have a pretty close split when it comes to left-handed versus right-handed starters, but the key differentiation is in the strikeout percentage. Pirates hitters are striking out against southpaws 25.7% of the time as opposed to 22.4% against against RHP. Zobrist would be a great band aid in this regard and gives Clint Hurdle great lineup flexibility with two switch-hitters in play.
The case against Zobrist.
While there is no one obvious red flag working against Zobrist being a fit in Pittsburgh, there are a few caution flags to note, if you will. First, Zobrist suffered a mild MCL injury earlier that caused him to miss a month. One wonders if his knee can hold out the rest of the way. (Zobrist has not missed any additional games due to the knee injury since being reinstated on May 25th.) Zobrist has also seen his power and RBI numbers drop steadily over the past few years. The last piece of caution surrounding Zobrist is more of a philosophical one. Zobrist screams ‘rental’ with his impending free-agency coming after the 2015 season concludes. While the Pirates brass has not shown any trepidation towards rentals in the past, it’s curious to speculate if their thinking is swinging the other way. Being in on David Price in 2014 while he still had a year of control left may indicate that Huntington and staff wouldn’t shy away from a bigger commitment.
We would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the fact that Billy Beane is the GM of the Athletics. Widely regarded as one of the top general managers in baseball for more than a decade, one can reasonably assume from his track record that any prospects or major-league talent Beane may ask for will have great value. Thus it may make everyone involved think twice about any deal struck with the Athletics.
I loathe the term “window” in sports. For me, the implication is that teams only have a certain amount of time to compete for a championship before it’s time to break it down and rebuild. Yet, something feels special about this 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates team, and it would be a shame to see it fall short due to an overzealous need to hold onto prospects. With his multi-positional flexibility and excellent split against left-handed pitching, I think that Ben Zobrist would be an amazing addition to this team.