Ben Zobrist finished the 2015 season as the second baseman for the World Series champion Kansas City Royals. During the season, he also spent time at third base and all three outfield positions. He began the season with the Oakland A's, where he also split time between the outfield and the keystone position. During his career, he has also logged over 1,700 innings at shortstop and made a few appearances at first base.
What is most interesting about Zobrist is that he plays every position well, and is a consistent producer at the plate. He is, in one sense, the poster boy for skeptics of modern defensive metrics, showing wild swings in both his DRS and UZR/150 ratios from season to season. In 2009 he posted a UZR/150 of 23.9 with a 16 DRS, but then just 12.6 and six the following season, respectively. In 2015, Zobrist rated a negative seven DRS and negative 13.3 at second base. His UZR/150 in the outfield has been -18.4, +37, and -15.1. Clearly, something is amiss, including the fact that we're dealing with less than 400 innings each season in the outfield. So, you just have to watch him play to know that he can handle both positions fairly well.
In terms of the outfield, Zobrist has played much more left field than any of the other positions in the past two seasons, but was used more in right field during his time with the Tampa Bay Rays, where he spent the first six plus seasons of his career.
Who is he?
Zobrist was drafted by the Houston Astros out of Dallas Baptist University in the sixth round of the 2004 draft. He was traded to the Rays for Aubrey Huff in July of 2006 and made his debut with Tampa in 2008. He was a mainstay with the Rays, playing both infield and outfield for six seasons before being dealt to the Oakland A's with Yunel Escobar in January for Boog Powell and Daniel Robertson. The Royals acquired him primarily to fill the vacancy left by the injury to Omar Infante at second base, but he also played left field in place of Alex Gordon when he was injured.
Zobrist has had three seasons with 20 plus home runs, but those have not come since 2012. In recent seasons, he has been more of a 13 home run, .355-plus on-base hitter with 36 doubles. He has twice been an all-star and three times finished in the top 20 in the AL MVP voting. He is a 34-year-old switch hitter with a career OPS of .729 against right-handers and .823 against left-handers.
Why should we care?
The Tigers ranked dead last in the American League in runs scored after the MLB All-Star break last season. Much of that was due to the departure of Yoenis Cespedes and the massive hole that he left in left field and the lineup. The team needs to make up for lost offense, other than just counting on the players that they already have to produce more runs.
Zobrist will not get a contract anywhere near those of Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, or Justin Upton, either in dollars or years, but he is a steady hitter either at the top or the middle of the order. His age could prevent him from getting a contract for more than three years, although pretty much every team in the game could use a player of his abilities on their roster.
His defensive versatility would allow a team to carry an extra outfielder on their roster, rather than a second light hitting utility infielder. FanGraph's crowd sourcing estimates a contract of $14 million a year for three years. Since he was traded during the season, he was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer, so he will not cost his new team any draft picks as compensation for signing him.
Why should we stay away?
It would not be surprising if Zobrist gets offers from a large number of teams because of his versatility and solid on base ability, and that could drive up his price tag. The Tigers have prioritized pitching over offense heading into the offseason, so the amount of dollars remaining to replace the lost production of Cespedes may not be known until early 2016. Zobrist also has played a limited amount of time in left field, which is the position where the Tigers have an immediate need for a starting player.
Will he end up in Detroit?
As much as Tigers fans would love to see Zobrist in a Tigers uniform, the mathematics don't favor a Zobrist signing. The amount that it will take to add two starting pitchers and at least a couple of relief pitchers, plus the number of teams that would be very interested in Zobrist's services, are both working against a deal getting done by the Tigers.