The Best Get Better: Royals Nab Zobrist from Oakland

Our depth charts haven’t updated to show the details of the trade just yet, and those feed the projections, which feed the playoff odds. And the Royals have the second-best playoff odds in baseball right now at 97.4%.

Soon they will update to reflect that the Royals just went and got the available bat that fits their team best in Ben Zobrist from the Athletics. The cost may end up being high — the Athletics confirmed in a press release that Sean Manea is headed to Oakland, making the Royals’ top prospect the fourth lefty pitcher the team has spent on this year’s chances — but the reward, and the fit, is obvious.

Second base was the Royals’ worst position, and Zobrist can play their second-worst position (Right Field) well, too. Between the two positions, the newcomer is projected to be worth nearly a win and a half for his team. Between Omar Infante and Alex Rios, our projections have them worth around a half-win to the Royals.

But the Royals get better than a win better once you look further into the team dynamics and postseason roster choices.

For now, Zobrist returns Jarrod Dyson into the super-sub outfielder with speed, but once Alex Gordon is healthy, the former A will easily slide into second base and solve the worst spot on the team. In fact, that second base spot represents one of the worst holes among any playoff contender. Only a few spots — Cardinals’ first base (Stephen Piscotty and Mark Reynolds), Blue Jays’ left field (Chris Colabello and Danny Valencia), and Mets’ left field (Michael Conforto and Kelly Johnson) — are projected for worse production than the Royals’ second sacker.

Given the organization’s depth in the infield and outfield, the fact that Zobrist can play both is huge. Much is made of Zobrist’s ability to play many spots across the diamond, but it’s really the ability to play both the infield and outfield that makes him so valuable. Only Eduardo Escobar and Yasmany Tomas have played 200 innings in the outfield and also at an infield position this year, and they hardly represent the same type of player, nor where they probably available to the Royals.

By being able to play both, the Royals not only insure themselves against further injury to some extent, but they also open up postseason roster possibilities. If they want to carry Terrence Gore again for the injection of speed he can provide, then Zobrist is primarily an infielder. If Omar Infante plays better going forward, and they’d rather have the patience and pop that Zobrist can show over many of their outfielders, then he can be counted as an outfielder.

Therein lies another great match between the player and his new organization. It’s true that adding a slugger to a low on-base-percentage lineup can have more of an impact than adding one guy that take a walk, but the Royals are not that sort of extreme. They are third in the American League in OBP to the Mariners’ 14th. But they are second-to-last in getting OBP from their second baseman.

If the Royals learned a lesson from last year’s World Series — other than stuff happens — it looks to be that the Giants’ versatility and Madison Bumgarneriness were keys to winning. With the additions of Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, the Royals now have checked both of those boxes.

Yes, it cost them their top two prospects (Manea and Brandon Finnegan), and some depth beyond (Aaron Brooks in this deal and John Lamb in the other), but with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and Alex Gordon all becoming free agents between now and the end of 2017, there’s a window here for the Royals. With their playoff odds now near 99%, they made sure to set themselves up for a strong postseason run.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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8 years ago

The correct term is Madison Bumgarnishments.