Is it Ben Zobrist or bust for the Mets?
In a report for the New York Post, Ken Davidoff says if the Mets fail to sign the free agent super-utility player, the Mets don’t appear likely to sign a free agent of equal or greater caliber this winter to fill the need, such as Ian Desmond, Asdrubal Cabrera or Howie Kendrick.
Instead, the Mets would focus their efforts on finding a left-handed hitting outfielder to complement Juan Lagares, and explore re-signing Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, as well as other lower-tiered free agents to compete with Wilmer Flores, Dilson Herrera and Matt Reynolds for the jobs on the middle infield.
The thing is, whether or not they sign Zobrist, the Mets should consider bringing Uribe back in 2016 in no matter what.
He provides a quality insurance policy to David Wright, who figures to be on a similar program of playing three or four days and then have off to preserve his back. In addition, if Wright has to go on the disabled list for any period of time, they won’t have to rely on Eric Campbell at third base, or play someone out of position to fill the need, as was the case with Ruben Tejada last season.
As for Zobrist, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports says Zobrist is the Mets number-one target this winter, and the Mets and Nationals are expected to be the high bidders for Zobrist, according to Tom Verducci of MLB Network.
Since Zobrist is in such high demand, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says Zobrist is likely to secure a four-year deal this winter, and Rosenthal says a team guaranteeing the fourth year could be the deciding factor for him.
However, Davidoff echos a similar report from Adam Rubin of ESPN New York on Monday that the Mets don’t seem to keen on giving Zobrist the guaranteed fourth year.
The problem is, the demand for Zobrist continues to escalate ahead of the Winter Meetings next week, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports says Zobrist can already command a four-year deal which could go north of $60 million.
Davidoff says Zobrist is expected to decide on his new team by the end of the Winter Meetings next Thursday.
But the Mets had similar sentiments in their negotiations with Curtis Granderson two winters ago. Originally, the Mets only wanted to offer three guaranteed years, but Sandy Alderson ultimately relented and guaranteed that fourth year.
It remains to be seen if that deal works out in the long-term, and it’s also worth noting Granderson was younger than Zobrist when he signed that deal, as Zobrist would enter the first year of his contract in his age-35 season.
But if Zobrist can command a fourth guaranteed year this winter, and the Mets really want him, as it would appear they do, the Mets could ultimately relent, roll the dice and take a chance on Zobrist, if that is the kicker in signing him.
There’s no question Zobrist checks most of the boxes the Mets seek to fill this winter. He’s a versatile player, capable of playing at least three positions on the infield as well as both corner outfield spots. He is a contact-oriented hitter, and showed during the World Series against the Mets he is one of the better fastball hitters in the game, even as he concluded his age-34 season.
All things being equal, Zobrist would be an upgrade to Daniel Murphy and provide stability up the middle. He would help transform the top of their lineup from swing-and-miss to more contact with an ability to get on-base, and be another solid, veteran leader for the clubhouse as they endeavor to win their first World Championship since 1986.
But again, he’s entering his age-35 season, and a guaranteed four-year deal is a risky proposition for any player. The back-end of such a contract could become an albatross as his bat speed slows and his foot speed diminishes behind the pitching staff.
However, if the Mets intend to win right now, it may be a risk the Mets have to take with Zobrist, and deal with the consequences of the long side of such a contract.
If the Mets go into the 2016 season without Zobrist, Murphy and/or Yoenis Cespedes, there’s no question they’re entering the season with a lesser roster than what they had in 2015, which is something both Sandy Alderson and John Ricco have said publicly they hoped to avoid.
At least ten teams – including the Mets, Cardinals, Braves, Royals and Nationals – have reportedly shown interest in Zobrist this winter.
He is not tied to draft compensation, as he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer after being dealt to the Royals by the A’s mid-year.
Zobrist hit .276/.359/.450 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI in 126 games with the A’s and Royals in 2015. He underwent April knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Original post, Dec. 1, 8:16 am
Updated, Dec. 1, 8:28 pm