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Trading for Ben Zobrist

Not to pick on Sam Mellinger, but acquiring Zobrist might be the best move the Royals could make this season.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Mellinger had an excellent article about the Royals chances in the Wild Card race and added this comment near the end:

There are more buyers than sellers, and the cost for even a marginal upgrade like Ben Zobrist may be a package that includes both Hunter Dozier and Sean Manaea. The Royals already made their big play for this year when they traded for Davis and James Shields.

This "marginal upgrade" comment led to a back and forth  between Mellinger and Royals Review editor Max Rieper:

So, I though it'd be fun to take a closer look at that scenario.

First of all, it'd probably help to illuminate exactly what the Royals would be getting in Zobrist. In 367 plate appearances, Zobrist is hitting .266/.352/.401 with six home runs and five stolen bases. He has scored 42 runs and driven in 24, and has a 12 percent walk rate. That would easily be the best in Kansas City. His .352 on-base percentage would lead the team as well.

All of that sounds pretty good, but if you look at Zobrist's advanced metrics, he becomes even more interesting. Dating back o his first year of regular playing time in 2009, Zobrist is fourth in baseball among position players in fWAR. He trails only Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, and Robinson Cano. In other words, that's better than Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun, Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols, etc.

All of that talent comes at a price tag of about $7 million a year. For the rest of this season, the Royals would owe Zobrist less than $4 million and his contract includes a $7.5 million option for 2015. That's ridiculous. especially if you consider that Clayton Kershaw -- who will make $30 million next year -- has actually been less valuable than Zobrist since 2009. That's just one stat of course, and many people argue that pitching WAR and position player WAR don't compare perfectly, but still, in at a least one category Zobrist can claim he is the superior player.

So, yes. He's good. He'd make the Royals a better team. No question about it. He could play in right field and at first base, fill in at second and short, and maybe even third occasionally -- he's started 193 games on the left side of the infield in his career, but most of that time was spent at shortstop.

But would you trade Hunter Dozier and Sean Manaea for him?

Well, I don't know about you, but I would. Dozier has looked great in the first 150 games or so. It would be fantastic if he continued to improve and made his way to Triple-A, and then continued to improve and earned a promotion to the majors, and then continued to improve enough to stay in the majors, and perhaps, maybe someday be half as good as Ben Zobrist. That's not a knock on him. He'd still be a good player if he was half as good as Zobrist, but the risk is obvious to Royals fans.

I love prospects. Reading about minor leaguers is one of the only refuges for Royals fans, but we know better than most that prospects have a high failure rate.

Manaea could be something special, but again, it's not as if he's even close to being an impact player. He has a 4.66 ERA in High-A ball right now. He has the talent. He could be great, but he might be Tim Melville 2.0 as well.

If the Royals shipped those two to Tampa Bay for Zobrist, they'd be in a much better position to make something of the 2014 season. And, with Zobrist's cheap, certain-to-be-exercised 2015 option, the Royals would have a huge asset next year -- at which point they could either trade him at the deadline for Dozier-ish prospect and change, or they could retain him through the end of the year if they're in contention and extend the qualifying offer to him after the season. He'd almost definitely decline the offer and the Royals could recoup a first round draft pick for 2016.

There's no guarantee that a player acquired in a trade at the 2015 deadline or in the 2016 draft would be as good as Manaea or Dozier, but the Royals would have a sort of rebate coming back to them to make up for whatever they traded to Tampa Bay.

It's not ideal, of course. It'd be great if Rays general manager Andrew Friedman would send Zobrist to Kansas City  for Noel Argulles and Juan Graterol, but he won't for obvious reasons. If Dayton Moore wants to acquire someone that will make the Royals A LOT better, he'll have to give something up.

And while that's scary because his track record, it's not like he would be giving up a Wil Myers-caliber prospect. In many ways, the trade proposed in this scenario is much more reasonable than the Shields/Myers trade.

It's unlikely that this deal will happen, but if it did, it wouldn't be the worst trade of Dayton Moore's career.