If we were to make a list of Cubs most likely to be moved in a trade, the top spots would probably be littered with younger players. Buster Olney might have Kris Bryant ranked highly, though he’s on a sparsely populated island there. Theo Epstein’s prioritization of production over talent and a stated desire to add leadership speaks to maintaining as much of a veteran presence. But could it actually make sense to trade Ben Zobrist, as a source suggested to The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma?
Keep in mind that this is not being presented as a way to free up money in order to pursue Bryce Harper, since Zobrist’s $14 million AAV and single year remaining really doesn’t balance the ledger there. Rather, selling high on the aging Zobrist might allow the Cubs to pry prospects from another contender while opening up payroll for a reliever and a cheaper contact bat.
Sharma readily admits that while such a scenario is both counter-intuitive and undesirable, it could become a reality if budget constraints are really suffocating the front office’s plans. And that’s where things get really scary. Or maddening.
It’s one thing to make difficult decisions based on what’s best for the organization, and maybe trading Zobrist at this juncture of his career would be just that. But when such a move is prefaced by the team’s “need” to clear salary at the expense of both production and leadership, something is wrong. And unless things break the right way across multiple lines, trading Zobrist might only result in negligible improvement.
That goes for both present and future, since it’s hard to imagine a bargain position player out-performing Zobrist and even harder to imagine getting much back for one year of a guy who’ll turn 38 in May. Such a move does, however, check a big-ass box for creativity. It just feels like the equivalent of putting together a Rube Goldberg device just to flip a light switch.
I want to reiterate here that Sharma is not the one who came up with this idea and he’s not reporting it as something the Cubs are currently weighing. He’s simply adding context to a proposal that was shared with him and he presents an excellent argument for why it could work. All things considered, it makes sense for the Cubs to consider a deal if another team comes to them with a solid offer.
Such a team could be the Angels, who have reportedly checked in on Zobrist and might really value his intangibles as they try to take a step forward under their first new manager in nearly two decades. Maybe that results in an overpay of sorts and puts Zobrist in a situation that allows him to excel as his career winds down. And that’s great, it really is.
Except that the entire premise is couched in the idea that the Cubs “can’t” make the necessary moves to flesh out the roster unless they clear the kind of salary that should really be seen as insignificant at this point. And to do so at the cost of what Zobrist brings to the table beyond what he brings to the plate, well, that seems like a grievous mistake from where I stand.
But, once more for the road, this is all hypothetical right now and may very well remain so. Nothing is out of the question, though, so we’ll see if the idea crops up again.