Don’t look now, but the Detroit Tigers are in second place. For a team with World Series hopes, second place in the lately-pitiful AL Central simply won’t cut it.
Owner Mike Ilitch has opened up his wallet in recent years, and GM Dave Dombrowski is certainly always looking to wheel and deal. His track record thus far has been sterling: he’s lured players like Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez to Detroit.
But Dombo now has to deal with a struggling team with several holes.
The Tigers certainly won’t stand pat and hope the ship rights itself at the trade deadline. Dombrowski has been a deadline mastermind in recent years, including the (first) Doug Fister trade that vaulted the Tigers to the World Series. Don’t think for a second that double D doesn’t have something similar in mind for this year.
So what do the Tigers really need? That’s not an easy answer. Detroit could use a relief pitcher, a left-handed outfielder, a lead pipe to beat the hell out of Justin Verlander with, and a shortstop.
Which brings me to current Tampa Bay Ray Ben Zobrist.
Zobrist has done it all in his nine-year career in Tampa. He can play outfield, second base AND shortstop, and has even seen a bit of time at the corner infield positions. As a switch hitter, Zobrist would fit both the left-handed outfielder void as well as the one at short.
Zobrist has not had the most inspiring season, I know. As a Zobrist owner in fantasy baseball, I’m well aware of his struggles at the dish this year. Some may even argue that the Tigers are better off with youngster Eugenio Suarez patrolling the left side of the infield, but I disagree.
Suarez is a talented youngster, no doubt. But I fear that things will get much harder for the 22-year-old. As Tigers fans saw with Nick Castellanos, teams learned his weaknesses and he slumped in the month of May. Castellanos has been able to improve and right the ship a bit, but Suarez is not the prospect that Castellanos is. He will have a harder time adjusting.
Zobrist would be the perfect fit in Detroit. He could step into the middle of an already potent lineup and add to it immediately. Zobrist would be a great number two guy in the lineup as his career OBP of .352 suggests. The Tigers have struggled to find an everyday number two hitter: Ian Kinsler has been their best leadoff option, but has hit second for most of the season behind Rajai Davis. Davis has played well, but his .319 OBP is not good enough for a leadoff man.
With Zobrist in the lineup, Brad Ausmus has some options. He can bat Kinsler leadoff, or slot Zobrist in the number one spot. The two both have career OBPs around .350, so either is a good option. This would allow Ausmus to move Davis down to the bottom of the order and would give Cabrera and Martinez more opportunities to drive in runs.
I attribute some of Zobrist’s struggles this year to the Rays’ struggles as a whole. Baseball is a mental marathon and playing on a once contending team that is now in last place isn’t an easy pill to swallow. I feel that a change of scenery for Zobrist would do wonders.
Just imagine this lineup:
1. Kinsler, 2B
2. Zobrist, SS
3. Cabrera, 1B
4. V. Martinez, DH
5. Hunter, RF
6. Jackson, CF
7. Castellanos, 3B
8. Avila, C
9. Davis, LF
And if Ausmus feels that the red-hot JD Martinez is a better option than Davis, he could make that swap. If Suarez is an upgrade over Davis, put Zobrist in left and insert Suarez at short. The flexibility would be a big advantage.
How lucrative a package would the Tigers have to pony up for Zobrist’s services? Considering Tampa Bay’s situation, I’m not too sure it would be huge.
Tampa is known to have a tight pocketbook, so they will want prospects as opposed to proven commodities. The Tigers don’t have a loaded farm system but they have a stellar core of pitching prospects down in single-A that the Rays may be interested in. Detroit also has infield prospect Hernan Perez that they could throw in to sweeten the deal.
Zobrist’s contract expires after this year, and although the Rays have a $7.5 million option for the 2015 season, I’m sure they would welcome a deal that included a few prospects in exchange for Zobrist. At 33 years old, he isn’t the team’s future.
The Royals have also been linked to Zobrist and if he goes to the Tigers’ division rival (and leader of the AL Central), things would start looking grim in Motown.
But if the Tigers do nab Zobrist, a World Series ring would look more realistic than ever.