Add the Washington Nationals to the growing list of teams reportedly interested in free agent utilityman Ben Zobrist, according to team beat writer James Wagner of the Washington Post.
The multi-faceted Zobrist is an attractive option to many front offices this offseason due to his demonstrated competence playing pretty much anywhere on the diamond but first base and centerfield coupled with a bat that delivers a nice combination of bang and on-base percentage. Adding to his luster is the absence of the need to make him a qualifying offer because he was traded to the Royals in July.
The Nats were among nearly a dozen teams seriously pursuing Zobrist last winter when the Rays sought a top-level and mid-level prospect for him; a price the Oakland Athletics ultimately paid but most MLB execs at the time felt exorbitant for one year of control with the added uncertainty of the qualifying offer and potential loss of a draft pick in addition to the prospects at the back end.
Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said this week the team he wants to build for next season will be younger and more athletic, but the versatile 34-year-old switch-hitter would lend some needed lefty lumber to the lineup and allow new manager Dusty Baker to move some players around to fortify the bench.
After recovering from knee surgery early in the year, Zobrist slashed a combined .276/.359/.450/.809 (all upticks over recent seasons) in 535 plate appearances over 126 games for the Athletics and Royals, with 13 HR, 56 RBI, 76 R, 56 BB and 56 K, culminating in a postseason in which he helped the Royals win a World Championship by hitting .303/.365/.515/.880 adding 2 HR 6 RBI and 15 R over 66 AB in 16 games.
The ten-year veteran made $7.5 million last year and is likely looking for a four-year deal worth considerably more, with educated guesses ranging from $60 million to as much as $76 million. The Nats are expected to remove over $61 million from their all-time-high payroll of $165 million last season through the exodus of free agents, but Rizzo has cautioned arbitration raises for players the team intends to keep will gobble up the lion's share of the savings, with Stephen Strasburg ($7.4 million), Drew Storen ($5.7 million) and Wilson Ramos ($3.5 million) topping the list.