Could Ben Zobrist Fill The San Francisco Giants Biggest Hole?
It’s hard to find many holes or faults in a team that is currently 19-games over .500 and has the best record in Major League Baseball, but the San Francisco Giants have one, and it’s a big.
For the very beginning of Spring Training, Giants fans and pundits knew that second base could become a problem area, with the health of starter Marco Scutaro being in question at the start of the season. Scutaro has been dealing with chronic back issues, but many believed that his absence wouldn’t last this long and that he would be relatively healthy for much of this season. Well, we are about a 1/3 of the way through the season, and still no sign of Scutaro, or even a glimmer as to when he might return.
In his absence, the Giants have been relying on current starter Brandon Hicks at second base and for the most part, Hicks has filled in admirably given the circumstances. However, Hicks is not a long-term season answer at second base. Hicks is currently batting .182/.297/.359, with 26 R’s, 6 2B’s, 8 HR’s, 22 RBI’s, and an OPS of .656 in 181 at-bats. While his power and 8 HR’s are nice, his team leading 66 SO’s are not. One has to begin to wonder, as the season goes along and we get closer to October, can the Giants really rely on Hicks at second base? The conventional answer is no, and a solution needs to happen sooner rather than later.
One name that comes to mind when thinking about possible trade candidates is Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist. The Rays record is currently 25-42, good for last place in the AL East division and the worst record in all of baseball. Yes, many pundit’s choice to win the division is struggling mighty hard, and it’s about time for them to really asset where they are heading this season. Any smart GM – and the Rays do have one – would recognize that at this point in their season, the chances of the Rays making a major recovery and getting back into the playoff race is slim. They need to start thinking about the future and identifying which players they can trade off and get future assets in return. None better come to mind than Zobrist.
The 33-year old Zobrist is currently batting .246/.325/.367 with 27 R’s, 10 2B’s, 5 HR’s, 13 RBI’s, 4 SB’s, and a .693 OPS in 207 at-bats. While his stat line may not look that different from Hicks’, Zobrist has the track record of producing much better offensive numbers than his has, and he also has a near 1:1 K/BB ratio at 25:32. Zobrist would also bring versatility to the Giants, as he can play both at shortstop and in the outfield. Additionally, he recently spent some time on the disable list this season for a dislocated thumb he suffered while sliding head-first, but he is back fully healthy now, so hopefully his offensive production will start to climb back up. His contract is very manageable at $7 million this season, with a team option for the 2015 season at $7.5 million.
In terms of prospect cost for a trade to acquire Zobrist, I can’t imagine that the Rays would command a top-flight prospect in return; meaning starting pitcher Kyle Crick is off-the-table. But – and I hate to say this because I really like what I see in him – I would think if the Giants offered up catching prospect Andrew Susac up to the Rays for Zobrist, that would get the deal done. Susac is currently in his first season at triple-A (.287/.390/.515 with 17 R’s, 5 2B’s, 6 HR’s, 20 RBI’s, and a .905 OPS in 101 at-bats) and should be ready for major league play come next season. While I would hate to lose Susac, he is obviously being blocked by one of the best catchers in all of MLB (Buster Posey), and the Giants haven’t yet explored moving Susac to another position. If there is nowhere for Susac to play at the big-league level, it would behoove the Giants to trade him and fill a need elsewhere. And it’s not like Zobrist would be a one-year rental either, as the $7.5 million team option is very reasonable for a team like the Giants to pick up.
There is also an in-house option should the Giants decide to go that route. Joe Panik was the Giants 2011 first-round draft pick from St. John’s University, and he too is currently in his first season at triple-A. The 23-year old right-handed hitting second baseman is currently tearing up the PLC to the tune of .322/.383/.452 with 46 R’s, 11 2B’s, 5 HR’s, 40 RBI’s, and a .835 OPS in 261 at-bats. Like Zobrist, Panik too is posting a near 1:1 K/BB ratio with 24 BB’s and 31 SO’s. However, this is Panik’s first season in triple-A and he has logged in zero at-bats at the major league level, so there is no telling how he will fair in the big leagues.
There is no need to panic as of yet, as the Giants are resting comfortably atop the NL West division and 8.5 games up of the second place Los Angeles Dodgers. But as it starts to get closer to the July 31st trading deadline, the conversation needs to be had by the Giants if they can truly go into October with what they currently have at second base.