A year ago this month, the Mets were targeting a high profile free agent, Ben Zobrist, late of the 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals. The Mets had seen more than enough of Mr. Zobrist in their losing World Series effort, and they wanted the versatile player on their side. Reports at the time indicated the Nationals, Giants, Dodgers and Mets all had interest in signing him, but that the Mets had the inside track. Then, at the last moment, the Chicago Cubs swept in and signed him, even though the Mets offer was a little better.
Zobrist became a key performer in the Cubs historic season that saw them capture their first World Series in 108 years. But what if he had signed with the Mets instead of the Cubs? And if he had signed with the Mets, whats effects would that have on the Mets and the Cubs both last year and 2017?
If the Mets had signed Zobrist it would have deepened the roster, but many of the moves the Mets made in the first part of 2016 might have still gone through. Daniel Murphy certainly would have left for the Nationals as he did in actuality with Zobrist tabbed to play second for the Mets. I think the Jon Neise for Neil Walker trade might still have occurred, since Walker had played some third base in his career and everybody knew David Wright‘s health was iffy, and it did not seem like there would be a role for Neise on the Mets pitching staff. I think the Mets still would have signed Jose Reyes in July for infield depth, especially since Zobrist would likely have playing quite a bit of outfield by then due to Michael Conforto‘s prolonged slump followed by a trip to the minors.
With Zobrist available for outfield duty with the Mets in 2016 at the trade deadline, I don’t think they would have traded for Jay Bruce. So in this scenario Bruce is not on the roster, Dilson Herrera is in the Mets organization and the Mets do not have the Bruce salary hanging over their head either.
If they had signed Zobrist the Mets likely would have won a few more games in 2016, since Zobrist had an impressive slash line of .272/.386/.446 with 18 homers for the Cubs in 147 games, and probably would have had similar numbers for the Mets. He also is pretty good defensively at a variety of positions. The Met pitching staff was decimated by injury so they would not have made up the eight games they finished behind Washington. They probably would not have advanced any further than the real Mets did since Madison Bumgarner of the Giants threw that gem in the wild card game at Citi Field.
The 2017 season with Zobrist would look hopeful for the Mets, however. The team could field an impressive lineup in the upcoming season. Here is a batting order they could use in 2017 in this scenario.
1 Reyes (3b)
2 Asdrubal Cabrera (ss)
3 Yoenis Cespedes (lf)
4 Zobrist (rf)
5 Walker (2b)
8 Travis d’Arnaud ( c)
Note that four of the first five hitters are switch-hitters, and the other is Cespedes. Lets see an opposing manager try to gain the upper hand in pitching match-ups late in the game with so many switch-hitters, it would be fun to watch. The Mets would have a good shot at winning the division under these circumstances, if their pitchers were reasonably healthy.
Oh, and back to 2016 for a moment, this time with respect to the Cubs. Without Zobrist they would have still won the division and the pennant. But the World Series? It was a hard fought seven game battle against the Indians. Zobrist went on a tear in the series, with a slash line of .357/.419/.500. He drove in the go ahead run in game seven, and he walked away with the MVP award. If the Cubs had not signed Zobrist a year ago, it’s quite probable that it would be the Indians who broke their World Series drought in 2016 and the Cubs might still be looking for their first championship since 1908.