The A’s have put the finishing touches on their brand new infield, trading for the multi-positional Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Oakland is sending catcher John Jaso – acquired from Tampa Bay two years ago – back to the Rays, along with two minor-leaguers, top shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson and outfielder Boog Powell.
Zobrist had been included in trade talks all winter, including discussions with the Giants, but ultimately Billy Beane met the price that the Rays were looking for. After the fact it makes perfect sense — Zobrist fits the mold of versatility that the A’s have coveted over the last several seasons with his ability to play all over the diamond and bat from both sides of the plate. He looks like he should slot into the starting second baseman spot, but he’s sure to see time all over the field.
Zobrist has been one of the most valuable players in baseball for years; since 2009 he trails only Miguel Cabrera in WAR while producing a .270/.364/.437 triple slash line while playing his home games at pitcher-friendly Tropicana Dome. He also has a strong OPS+ of 123 while playing excellent defense at second base and the outfield.
Escobar should become the A’s starting shortstop, replacing the departed Jed Lowrie. The acquisition of Escobar does call into question what will be done with Marcus Semien, who was acquired from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade. Escobar won’t replace the hitting that Lowrie provided — Escobar put up a .256/.318/.350 line and an 87 OPS+ over the last three years. However, he represents a defensive upgrade.
Zobrist will make $7.5 million this year and will be a free agent after the season. By trading for him before the season the A’s will still have the opportunity to tender a qualifying offer at the end of the season, which would ensure a high draft pick if he leaves next offseason. Escobar will earn $5 million this season and $7 million in 2016, and there is a club option for 2017 at $7 million with a $1 million buyout.