By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) You loyal readers are probably tired of my White Sox and Cub comparison stories, but this was an offseason in which both clubs had needs that were almost the same as they looked for free agents and trade options.
The stories I wrote in October and November projected a mutual need for a catcher like Miguel Montero and a left fielder who brought with him a left-handed bat and on-base skills such as Melky Cabrera. Low and behold, the Cubs pulled the trigger on a deal for Montero at the Winter Meetings in San Diego and the White Sox went deep into their money pit to sign Cabrera three weeks ago.
The projection of interest in Tampa’s versatile veteran Ben Zobrist for both Chicago teams isn’t fantasy. Zobrist has been one of baseball’s most valuable and affordable players for the past eight seasons. He may very well be available to the team who offers the right package of young players. The Rays would want near-ready major league talent with predictable contract and salary status for the future.
Zobrist is entering the last year of a four-year, $18-million contract. At age 33 (he’ll be 34 in May), the talented Eureka, Ill., native seems to still have plenty left in the tank. His overall numbers were consistent last year with his career breakdowns, despite a drop in RBI production from his usual 75 per season to 53 in 2014.
The offensive numbers are just a small byproduct of this mentally tough player. Zobrist can play four or five positions with the same efficient results. This makes him the focal point of a manager’s aggressive late-game moves. We are talking skill positions that include the middle infield as well as both corners of the outfield. He also played seven games in center field last season.
The Chicago teams aren’t alone in their admiration of Zobrist and the multiple assets he brings to the table. With a salary of $7.5 million in 2015, he fits in on just about any payroll in which clubs are competing to win soon. If one of the Chicago teams is his next destination, at-bats and games played for Zobrist would most likely be fewer. That would be the case unless both teams played him at third base ahead of incumbents Conor Gillaspie and Luis Valbuena. The Cubs need to leave either third base or left field open for the eventual promotion of Kris Bryant. The White Sox must also take a long look at Micah Johnson as their second baseman of the future.
At Zobrist’s age, playing less than his usual 155 games may make him even more valuable and productive. Imagine him as the ultimate super-sub in the game. Most importantly for any team, he can provide a certainty at almost any position if you were to incur an injury or sub-standard play from a youngster or questionable veteran.
A career .354 on-base percentage is just icing on the cake for the highly desirable Zobrist, who has played his entire major league career for Cubs manager Joe Maddon. Both have Chicago-based agent Alan Nero representing them.