It’s been no secret over the first month or so of the 2015-2016 MLB offseason that the Mets are hot for free agent infielder Ben Zobrist, as it’s recently been reported that he was their No. 1 target.
While he has yet to make a decision, things on that front appear to be progressing as Zobrist visited Sandy Alderson and the Mets on Wednesday of this past week, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.
Per Rosenthal’s report, Zobrist spent the day with Alderson and Jeff Wilpon in Connecticut, where they toured parts of Westchester, as well as other parts of the state, and had dinner together.
“We’re very interested,” assistant GM John Ricco said on Friday regarding Zobrist.
Ricco did not say if the Mets had made a formal offer to Zobrist.
The Mets are not alone in their interest in Zobrist, however, as Rosenthal later reported on MLB Network that the versatile veteran has recently visited other teams as well, and is expected to visit the Giants soon.
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, and Rosenthal says a team guaranteeing the fourth year could be the deciding factor for him.
Previously, the Mets hadn’t seemed inclined to give Zobrist a four-year deal, according to multiple reports. But Marc Carig of Newsday says the Mets are indeed willing to offer a fourth year if that’s what it takes to get a deal done.
It’s worth mentioning 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.
Currently, the Mets, Nationals, Dodgers and Giants all appear to be in the hunt for Zobrist, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, with the Royals appearing to be priced out, the Braves and Angels on the fringes, and the Cubs and Cardinals not being able to guarantee as many at-bats for the super-utility free agent.
A decision is expected during the winter meetings, Crasnick explained.
All things being equal, Zobrist would be an upgrade to Daniel Murphy and provide stability up the middle.
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. 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 there’s the issue of his age, and the risk associated with guaranteeing four years to a player entering his age-35 season, which is presumably why the Mets are reluctant to give Zobrist a four-year deal. But 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.
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: December 4, 12:30 pm
Updated: December 5, 2:15 pm