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More on Zobrist, Escobar and the infield

Dec 8, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

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NASHVILLE — The Ben Zobrist Sweepstakes appears to be approaching the finish line at last, with the highly coveted veteran scheduled to meet with Nationals officials today at the Winter Meetings and then make a decision where he’ll sign sometime shortly after that.

And as of last night, all indications were that Zobrist’s decision has come down to the Nats and their chief division rival, adding an extra layer of intrigue to the proceedings.

Zobrist reportedly had narrowed his search to three finalists over the last week: the Nationals, Mets and Giants. But San Francisco general manager Bobby Evans suggested to reporters Monday that the versatile 34-year-old prefers to primarily play second base. The Giants were interested in him primarily as an outfielder, likely taking themselves out of the mix and leaving Zobrist to decide between the Nationals and Mets.

The Nats would want Zobrist to man second base on a regular basis while also serving as a backup to Jayson Werth in left field and (on rare occasions) Bryce Harper in right field.

“We have interest in him,” GM Mike Rizzo said yesterday. “He fits for us at several positions. But second base is a position that I think he likes best, and he fits for us best at second base. But with that said, this guy can play all over the field and a guy that has great versatility.”

Rizzo spoke glowingly about Zobrist, who is expected to command a 4-year contract that won’t expire until he is 39 but remains one of the sport’s most fundamentally sound, all-around players.

“Zobrist is a good fit for about 30 teams in the big leagues,” Rizzo said. “He’s, first of all, a really good player. He’s good on both sides of the ball, can really do everything on the baseball field. He’s a good baserunner. He can hit for a little power. He’s a good defensive player at several positions.”

Should they be able to land Zobrist, the Nationals would face a potential logjam in their infield. With Anthony Rendon slated to return to third base on a full-time basis in 2016 and Zobrist presumably taking over at second base, the club would have to choose one player among the trio of Yunel Escobar, Danny Espinosa and top prospect Trea Turner to play shortstop.

Rizzo wouldn’t commit to any of the three yesterday, suggesting only that he’s not going to be in the market for another shortstop.

“I have a comfort level that if today was Opening Day, we have a shortstop on the roster and feel good about it,” he said. “Several of them. That’s why we have spring training. We’ll figure out where every player fits. But we’re strong and deep up the middle, and that’s a good place to be.”

Escobar would be a logical candidate to be traded, and still could be even if the Nationals don’t sign Zobrist. The veteran infielder is coming off a career year in which he hit .314 and is slated to earn a relatively affordable $7 million in 2016. The Nats could sell high on Escobar and still feel comfortable with their infield depth.

“He’s a versatile player that’s a good hitter and a really good, big-league player,” Rizzo said. “Yeah, there’s been several teams interested in him.”

  1. nats1924 - Dec 8, 2015 at 6:34 AM

    Zobrist is a good player….but a 3/4year deal for a player reaching the mid 30s age?

    • chaz11963 - Dec 8, 2015 at 8:32 AM

      I thought the same thing, but Symborski seems to think Zobrist may be the rare player that will hold value into performance declining years. Check out the Zips projections:

      http://espn.go.com/mlb/insider/story/_/id/14314313/ben-zobrist-not-good-fit-new-york-mets

    • Guapo - Dec 8, 2015 at 11:05 AM

      Nats have three years to win a championship before Harper becomes a free agent.

      Win one, and they can sign him to the forever contract. Continue to under perform as a team, and he’ll be gone. The kid just wants to win. He’s going to make absurd money here, or elsewhere.

      It’s all in through 2018.

      Zobrist fills a critical need for an often injured infield and more importantly, can take the leadoff spot in the batting order.

      Do it, Rizzo. Do it.

  2. kirbs3256 - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    This is one of those deals where you pay him for 4, but only expect 2……And how cheap can we get Chapman for now??

    • stoatva - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:52 AM

      The Chapman situation has become a bit more complicated with the disclosure of the October domestic violence incident, and possible hand injury. Reports indicate he went Full Papelbon on his girlfriend, and fired a weapon in the garage.

      • kirbs3256 - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:57 AM

        Yea I read it….it looks like one of those typical domestic situations where she the female gets mad and for a moment tells what happens-and then she goes “EHH, nevermind. It’s not worth it”.

        So who knows where it will go or what the result will be.

        But on a lighter note, it now makes our choker closer look a little better. Maybe the Dodgers will say “At least this guy chokes people who can defend himself. Let go get him”.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 8, 2015 at 5:03 PM

        Typical situation where some rich pampered [bleep] beats somebody, shoots at them, and the whole thing gets papered over because, hey, it’s just some woman.

        Happens every day.

  3. kirbs3256 - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    And apparently we signed Shawn Kelly from SD at 3 am this morning.

    • kirbs3256 - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:43 AM

      Kelley, who turns 32 in April, posted a 2.45 ERA and 63 strikeouts (against just 15 walks) in 51 1/3 relief innings for the Padres in 2015. This fine performance was backed up by metrics like FIP, xFIP and SIERA — Kelley also pitched well according to those advanced statistics in 2013-14 as a reliever for the Yankees but wasn’t as lucky on the ERA front, posting a 4.46 ERA in those two seasons.

    • unkyd59 - Dec 8, 2015 at 8:01 AM

      Kelley sounds like a really solid addition!

  4. alexva6 - Dec 8, 2015 at 8:31 AM

    healthy Kelly > uncertain Stammen

    keep going Mike!

    • ehay2k - Dec 8, 2015 at 9:17 AM

      +1

  5. veejh - Dec 8, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    I like the Kelley signing. Apparently, he couldn’t hold leads early last season for the Pads, but came around.

  6. langleyclub - Dec 8, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    Kelley was lights out to finish the 2015 season; 2nd half stats:

    – 0.93 ERA; 0.98 WHIP 12+Ks per 9 innings.

    The bad news is that he only pitched 19 innings after the all-star break as he was DL’d with elbow issues. Would assume that the Nats’ new medical staff gave him a clean bill of health. He is not young as Kelley turns 32 in April.

  7. Guapo - Dec 8, 2015 at 12:09 PM

    The most damaging stat for the Nationals offense in 2015 was Harper’s RBI total.

    99 for a guy who hits .330 in the cleanup spot and drives himself in 42 times is terrible. We need guys who get on base ahead of the kid.

    Zobrist has a higher career OBP than Span. And averages 15 HRs a season.

    Ability to play SS until TT is ready could make Escobar valuable on the trade market. I actually love Escobar, but he’s coming off a career year and likely at peak value.

    Buy low, sell high. Deepen the bullpen.

  8. langleyclub - Dec 8, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    Don’t think that Escobar can play SS any more on a competent level. He had extremely limited range at 3B last year. FWIW, Rendon would be a better option at SS, and that would be a disaster IMO, I can’t imagine that the Nats would seriously consider Escobar as a legit everyday option at SS even if it was for a few months to give TT more time in AAA.

    • unkyd59 - Dec 8, 2015 at 12:23 PM

      Pretty sure Guapo was just saying Zobrist would mean there’d be no reason to keep Esco around… Nobody here wants him at SS…

      • unkyd59 - Dec 8, 2015 at 1:25 PM

        …or 2b… or 3b, for that matter….

  9. letswin3 - Dec 8, 2015 at 1:43 PM

    With the exception of the elbow comments here, Kelly looks to be another smart move for Rizzo, and a move in the right direction for the BP. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him, but his numbers are impressive, especially the fact that he is more of a complete inning type of reliever, as opposed to a guy who comes in to get one out. I’ll feel better when the deal is verified and the medical issue is dismissed.

    • unkyd59 - Dec 8, 2015 at 1:54 PM

      Has anybody seen the Kelley story sourced to anyone other than the YES report, at about 12:30 this morning? That one guy has been picked up by several wires, but I haven’t seen any corroboration…?

      • letsallbaseball - Dec 8, 2015 at 2:08 PM

        like natsguy says below, there’s reported competition with the Diamondbacks and Mariners

  10. Doc - Dec 8, 2015 at 2:00 PM

    Utility guy Zobrist has a 4yr. $80 mm offer on the table.

    Baseball needs to have their own mint. By the time Harps has his chance at the bank, he’ll probably get an offer in the billion $ range!

  11. natsguy - Dec 8, 2015 at 2:04 PM

    The Kelley thing was an early rumor and apparently Nats and 2 others are still in play. Be careful about early rumors at Winter Meetings.

  12. ward5nedc - Dec 8, 2015 at 2:15 PM

    Couldn’t they sign Ian Desmond for similar money?

    • Doc - Dec 8, 2015 at 2:30 PM

      Good point!

  13. kirbs3256 - Dec 8, 2015 at 2:33 PM

    Yeah just saw it is still a bidding process for Kelley.

  14. unkyd59 - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:03 PM

    So, now the reports are that its down to Mets & Cubs, for Zobrist… Cue the JB rant…..

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