The Kansas City Royals went all-in for 2016 when they traded for Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto at the trade deadline. The moves paid off, and Kansas City hoisted its first World Series trophy since 1985. Cueto was certainly a rental, and it’s doubtful there will even be serious contract talks between the ace pitcher and the Royals front office. Zobrist, on the other hand, may have been viewed as a rental at the time of the trade, but should now be viewed as an integral part of keeping the championship core together.
Zobrist is a perfect fit for the Kansas City lineup. He is versatile and his style of play meshes well with the rest of the team. Zobrist looked at home immediately upon joining the Royals, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, it felt as if the ten-year veteran had spent his entire career with the Royals. While Zobrist is far from a superstar player, he brings a strong blend of clubhouse leadership and on-field production that Kansas City will be hard-pressed to replace should they lose him.
With Alex Gordon also hitting free agency, it becomes even more important for the Royals to aggressively attempt to re-sign the utility player who gave his daughter the middle name ‘Royal.’ Clearly Ben Zobrist has some sort of attachment to the team that made him a World Series champion for the first time. Zobrist’s slash numbers in 59 games with the Royals were all at or near career-highs. After spending his entire career with the Tampa Bay Rays until the beginning of the 2015 season, Zobrist is not the type of player who needs the bright lights and the big market to thrive.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume the Royals lose Alex Gordon. That leaves them with an outfield that will feature Lorenzo Cain and some combination of Paulo Orlando, Jarrod Dyson, and Terrance Gore in 2016. That’s not exactly a corner outfield situation that will inspire much confidence. If the Royals want to maintain their status as a perennial World Series contender, they must begin spending to keep their own. A few players like Salvador Perez, Yordano Ventura, and Wade Davis agreed to team-friendly extensions. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Cain will not be so easy to re-sign when their free-agent dates come up.
The Royals must begin by showing the trio of Moustakas, Hosmer, and Cain that they are committed to keeping a championship roster together. Obviously the front office showed that level of commitment this July by pulling off the blockbuster moves for Cueto and Zobrist, but it cannot stop there. Zobrist is not necessarily a player that will change the fate of a franchise with his production on the field, but his re-signing would show the rest of the roster that the front office is serious about keeping the ballclub together.
Ben Zobrist brings many things to the Kansas City Royals. His production and versatility will be valuable, but the message sent by re-signing the veteran is just as important. Even if it means outspending teams like the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Chicago Cubs, the Royals must do everything in their power to bring Zobrist back. While the Royals still have a few years to go before Cain, Hosmer, and Moustakas are up, the time is now to make a strong statement that contending for a World Series will be an every year event, not an every 30 year event, no matter how much it costs.