San Francisco Giants: Ben Zobrist Should be Main Position Player Target


Most of the focus this offseason has been on pitching, but the San Francisco Giants should have their sights set on bringing in a position player, namely Ben Zobrist.

With left field a question mark for the San Francisco Giants, yet again, the team has been linked to a few free agent position players. Chris Davis and Justin Upton, two of the premier position players on the market, have been linked to the Giants, but the money they would command would likely hinder their pursuits of starting pitchers, which is frankly a much more glaring need for the team. Yoenis Cespedes and Jason Heyward, probably the top two outfielders on the market, haven’t been directly linked to the Giants, but the rumors are swirling for both.

One player who has been linked to the Giants, fits their need in left field, and would make sense from a team mentality aspect is Ben Zobrist. Zobrist, baseball’s quintessential super utility player, could immediately come in for the Giants and become their everyday left fielder. According to the latest on Zobrist by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Giants are one of four teams “in the mix” for his services.

Zobrist would likely sign a three or four-year contract, and would become the Giants’ everyday left fielder. Left field has long been a revolving door for the Giants, since the end of the Barry Bonds era. Since the 2008 season began, the first year sans Bonds, the Giants have used 42 different left fielders, and only Gregor Blanco (227 games played in left field), has played more in than 200 of the team’s 1,296 games in that span. With Nori Aoki heading to the Seattle Mariners, ending any hopes of a return to San Francisco, whoever starts opening day in left field for the Giants will be their ninth different opening day left fielder in nine years.

Though Zobrist doesn’t have the name power of a player like Davis or Heyward, a player with Zobrist’s all-around capabilities is extremely valuable to every team. With a player on the roster who can play any position in a moment’s notice, it creates an extra dimension of flexibility, essentially opening an extra roster spot for a 13th pitcher, third catcher, or another utility player. After a miserable year, injury-wise, in 2015, the Giants would welcome a player with Zobrist’s versatility with open arms.

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The Giants’ depth was tested and pushed to the limit in 2015, as injuries caused just about each everyday starter to miss some semblance of extended time. Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Aoki, and Hunter Pence, half of the Giants’ expected everyday lineup, finished the season on the shelf because of various injuries. Aoki and Pence both missed over 60 games, and Pence missed over 100. In addition, Brandon Crawford, Angel Pagan, Blanco, and Andrew Susac, all key contributors, missed prolonged periods of the season with injuries.

Zobrist would be signed with the idea of putting him in left field on a nearly everyday basis, but he certainly wouldn’t be limited to playing one position. In his 10-year big leaguer career, Zobrist has played every position on the diamond, save for pitcher and catcher. Zobrist has played second base with the most regularity, appearing in 616 games there, and if Panik’s back problems were to persist, Zobrist could easily slide in there. If Belt’s concussion issues were to pop up again, Zobrist has played first base 17 times in the past. If Crawford needs a day off, Zobrist’s natural position is shortstop, and he has played there 229 times in the past. So on, and so forth.

Zobrist’s approach at the plate would fit in well with the Giants’ current hitting philosophy. Though he doesn’t have great power, Zobrist is a good average hitter, hitting .272 over the past five seasons, and has good gap-to-gap power, surpassing 30 doubles in each of the past five years. He also doesn’t strike out much, with a career K-rate of 15.1 percent. As a team, the Giants’ positions players struck out in 17.6 percent of their plate appearances last year, with individual K-rates of 15.7 for Matt Duffy, 15.1 for Pagan, 9.7 for Panik, and 8.3 for Buster Posey (the third-lowest in baseball for qualified hitters).

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There are some concerns with Zobrist, though. Zobrist is not a young man in the sports world, as he will turn 35 years old next May. Rumors have it that Zobrist is seeking a four-year contract (worth $12 million to $15 million annually, depending on who you listen to), which would take him into his age-38 season. It would be risky for any team to sign a player of Zobrist’s age to a long-term deal, but considering what Zobrist brings to his table, it may be worth it. Some team will certainly make Zobrist a rich man this offseason.

The Giants are still waiting to hear from Zack Greinke, the biggest fish on the free agent market, who is supposed to make his decision quite soon. However, no one really knows when “soon” is. For the Giants, signing a left fielder could hinge on Greinke, as he will make an absurd amount of money, and eat up most of the Giants’ available funds, if he were to spurn the Dodgers and head to the Bay. Whether or not the team would want to, or even be able to sign Zobrist after that, is undeterminable right now.

Next: Giants' Rumor Mill Churning

Left field is still a question mark for the Giants, which is becoming an annual occurrence for them. Maybe it’s time to shut down the revolving door, and sign a long-term left fielder.