Giants Linked to Possible Ben Zobrist Deal

The official second half of the season begins on Friday, so it’s the time of year where teams look inward and assess what they need in order to solidify their rosters for the mad playoff drive over the final two months of the season. For the Giants, I was all ready with a top five keys to the second half of the season type of article, but really, there’s just one very, very, very big key to focus on. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, that key is plugging the gaping black hole at second base that has been the bane of the Giants’ existence all year.

With the Brandon Hicks era officially dead in San Francisco, the team is sure to make the acquisition of a solid second baseman their top priority with the trade deadline a couple of weeks away. Upgrading a position that has been an utter dead spot in the lineup over the past two months is an obvious necessity, as the Giants are now caught in a National League West dogfight with the Dodgers after a June free fall.

The Giants got surprising power production out of Brandon Hicks in the season’s first month, but his utter inability to make contact finally became untenable and he gradually lost playing time before being sent down to AAA last weekend. Some fans (many of them inebriated KNBR callers), believed that rookie Joe Panik would be the answer when he was called up in June. However, he’s hit  just .216/.281/.255 and scouts who dismissed him as a backup appear to be correct in their assessments in the early-going. Marco Scutaro made his triumphant return on Saturday after missing the first three months with a back injury, but no one expects him to be a regular at this point and it’s anyone’s guess how well he’ll be able to field his position with all of his recent back troubles.

In all, Giants second baseman in 2014 have contributed an absolutely horrific .179/.267/.292 line. That is seriously closing in on pitcher hitting levels of futility. Nothing short of the second coming of Eugenio Velez could prevent the Giants from improving on that turgid non-production in the second half.

If the Giants are going to make a move, it’s probably going to be before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31. The name they’ve been linked to most frequently has been Tampa Bay second baseman and jack-of-all-trades Ben Zobrist. The Rays are currently sitting in last place and are sure to listen to offers for some of their veteran (and most expensive) players. Just a couple of weeks ago, it was reported that the Giants had sent special assignment scout Pat Burrell to Tropicana Field, with the speculation being that he was there to take a look at Zobrist.

The player affectionately known as Zorilla would be a perfect fit on the Giants for several reasons. The first is that he’s awesome, and has been a favorite of this particular writer for several years. His patience at the plate, ability to hit for power, and ability to hit for contact have made him one of the more underrated infielders of the past several years. Hidden away in the media dead zone that is Tampa Bay, Zobrist hit .269/.366/.446 (good for a 125 OPS+), with 89 home runs and 85 stolen bases from 2009 to 2013. His monster 2009 season, when he hit .297/.405/.543, with 29 home runs, is one of the most overlooked MVP-caliber seasons of the past decade. His power has taken a dip this year, but he’s still getting on base and, again, his production is miles better than what the Giants have been getting at the position this season.

Zobrist also fits the Giants’ mold in that he can play several different positions, and play them all well. Zobrist has primarily been a second baseman the past two years, but he’s literally played every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher in his major league career. He has started eighteen games at shortstop this season and nine games in the outfield, and he’s played right field extensively throughout his career. In the case of injury or day off, he could fill in basically anywhere on a whim. He could even theoretically fill in at center field for stretches if Angel Pagan keeps getting bit by the injury bug (Zobrist has started seventeen games in center field in his career, although none since 2010). That positional flexibility gives him a lot of extra value and is exactly the kind of versatility the Giants like in players.

From a financial standpoint, Zobrist would be relatively inexpensive. He’s slated to make $7 million this year and then has a $7.5 million team option (that would almost certainly be picked up) for next year. Other potential trade options at second base like Martin Prado or Chase Utley make substantially more, with Prado making $22 million over the next two years and Utley making a whopping $55 million through 2018. The downside to this is, of course, that Zobrist’s reasonable contract raises the price in terms of prospects a team would have to surrender, and some other team with more depth in the farm system could come along to blow the Giants out of the water with an offer. The Giants themselves could dangle catcher prospect Andrew Susac or a near-major league-ready arm like Edwin Escobar or Kyle Crick.

Zobrist is a popular player in Tampa and is active in the community there, so he would probably be a hit amongst fans in SF (then again, I’m the guy who thought Giants fans would love A.J. Pierzynski in 2004, so maybe I’m not the keenest authority). Of all the top second base  trade targets, Zobrist is the one who fits the Giants’ needs most closely, and just seems to fit the organizational mold. The coming weeks should shed more light into what the Giants are offering Tampa, and if the Rays are truly keen on trading one of their franchise mainstays. The San Francisco Bay already got a Godzilla arrival in May; it remains to be seen whether they’ll get a Zorilla visit as well.