The market for Ben Zobrist has been quite active with as many as 20 teams at least interested in checking in on the free agent. Zobrist is in high demand because of his ability to get on base and his versatility on the field can help nearly every team. Zobrist seemed to enjoy his time in Kansas City and seems open to a reunion, but money will likely be the driving factor in his decision.
While he was fantastic with the Royals, hitting .284/.364/.453 in 56 games, he will be 35 years old come May and has seen his defense decline in his older years. How much money should the Royals offer Ben Zobrist?
Jim Duquette at MLB.com suggests that a three-year $42 million deal could land Zobrist. The crowd at Fangraphs pretty much agrees, putting it around $46 million over three years. Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors predicts a three-year $51 million contract. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs is at the high-end with his prediction of four years, $76 million. One of our readers, Scott McKinney, agreed that his fair value would be in the four year, $72 million range.
Conventional wisdom suggests second baseman do not age well, with players like Carlos Baerga, Chuck Knoblauch, and Marcus Giles as evidence of sudden declines in performance. Zobrist will get plenty of three-year offers, but may seek a fourth year to provide more stability in his life. The Royals and Mets both seem very reluctant to go that fourth year, but a larger revenue club like the Cubs or Dodgers could step in and provide that kind of deal.
Let's take a look at second baseman in the last ten years who have signed 3-4 year free agent contracts past the age of 30. I am not counting players that signed contract extensions. The career WAR per 162 games listed is the accumulated WAR for that player up to the point they signed the contract.
We are in the middle of the four-year Omar Infante deal, and age has not treated him kindly either. But there does not seem to be a clear trend from this small sample size, some players declined, others kept their value pretty well. And perhaps we all forgot how good Mark Grudzielanek was in a Royals uniform.
The Royals could have a payroll between $120-130 million next year. They are already around $95-100 million in commitments for next year and still have to fill holes in left- and right-field, the starting rotation, and possibly the bullpen. The Royals would seem willing to pay Zobrist his money next year, but are less willing to commit four-years to an old player, especially when virtually the entire team is eligible for free agency in 2018.
Would you offer Zobrist the fourth year? How much would you offer him overall?