The Ben Zobrist bidding got a lot hotter Tuesday, and finding teams not interested in trading for the versatile veteran is a lot easier than determining who wants him. 

As first reported by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman and confirmed by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Tampa Bay Rays inked second baseman/shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year deal on Tuesday. The signing is viewed as a way for the Rays to replace Zobrist since it seems more a matter of when rather than if the team will move him.

The Rays will obviously not be selling Zobrist at his highest value, but one thing is certain: His stock will not get any higher than it is now.

Zobrist will turn 34 in May and can become a free agent after next season, so it’s almost stunning the Rays didn’t trade him a couple years ago. Still, the interest in him on the trade market is ridiculously high because he is about as productive a position player as there is.

“Trades are risky by nature,” Rays general manager Matt Silverman told Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune nearly two weeks ago. “The easiest thing to do is stand pat, and that can be just as risky if not more so. We’re looking to be proactive and take steps to improve our club, and that’s what we’ve been doing all offseason.”

Actually, what the Rays have been doing is slicing payroll and preparing for the future, which even included trading a 24-year-old, controllable Wil Myers. Cabrera’s signing, while doing nothing to make the roster younger (he is 29), is a stopgap in preparation for a Zobrist trade. Zobrist would be the first player in franchise history to start a 10th consecutive season with the Rays if he made it to Opening Day.

It is true Zobrist‘s name has not been thrown about the way Matt Kemp’s was or the way Cole Hamels’ has, but teams have been calling the Rays about Zobrist since early November. Now that clubs know it’s a virtual lock that the Rays will move him—it is assumed Cabrera will play second base, the spot Zobrist mostly occupied over the last two seasons—he will become the most sought-after player on the trade market in the short term.

Zobrist is probably the most underrated, undervalued player in baseball. He will make $7.5 million next season, and since 2011, he has a 23.2 WAR by FanGraphs‘ calculations. That is the fourth-highest total in the American League behind Mike Trout (29.1), Miguel Cabrera (26.5) and Robinson Cano (24.3). It’s incredible to think that is the kind of company Zobrist keeps relative to his stature.

Zobrist can also play every position on the diamond except the battery, and he still has a positive defensive WAR and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) aggregate. His best defensive position by the DRS metric in 2014 was left field, and that is why the San Francisco Giants seem like quite the logical landing spot.

The Giants lost their primary left fielder when Mike Morse signed with the Miami Marlins, and they clearly are not comfortable with Gregor Blanco platooning with someone else. The Giants would prefer an everyday left fielder, and Zobrist fits that model.

Not only that, but there are still a lot of questions about what incumbent second baseman Joe Panik can do over a season of 600 plate appearances. He hit .305/.343/.368 in 2014, but that came in just 287 plate appearances, and he was still just a 104 On-Base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) player. Zobrist would not only cover the Giants in left field, he can also be about as good an insurance policy at second base as there is available.

Zobrist could also spell new third baseman Casey McGehee from time to time although that can be said about almost every position when it comes to Zobrist.

In a Giants offseason filled with plenty of courting but not payoff, Zobrist could be the deal to ease the disappointment.

However, there are a lot of sharks in Zobrist‘s waters. The Washington Nationals, who let Cabrera walk, need a second baseman. The Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs could use outfield help. The New York Yankees could use middle infield help, as could the Toronto Blue Jays.

The winning bid will have to be hefty. The Rays value Zobrist greatly—there’s a reason they’ve held onto him for so long—and they could probably live with starting the season with him in uniform with the expectation of making him a qualifying offer at the end of the season. Or they could even wait until the July non-waiver trade deadline to move him out.

Plus, the Los Angeles Angels set the price for a contract-year second baseman when they dealt Howie Kendrick to the Los Angeles Dodgers for highly rated pitching prospect Andrew Heaney.

The Rays had little reason to sign Cabrera unless they were inclined to trade Zobrist. Again, this is more than likely a matter of when than if, and it will come down to which buying team most values the most undervalued player in the majors.


Advanced statistics courtesy of and FanGraphs.

Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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