NASHVILLE — The Ben Zobrist Sweepstakes finally resolved itself Tuesday night at the Winter Meetings, and though the Nationals didn't land the highly coveted free agent, they can at least take solace knowing he's not headed to their biggest division rival.
The Cubs, never considered among the favorites to sign Zobrist, swept in at the last minute and inked the versatile veteran to a 4-year, $56 million contract, a source confirmed to CSNchicago.com. (FoxSports.com was first to report the deal.)
The Nationals, who a source said were willing to give Zobrist four guaranteed years, were in the running for him earlier Tuesday, but the field narrowed to the Cubs and the Mets later in the day. New York had been more aggressive than any other club in pursuit of Zobrist this winter and now is left scrambling to find a starting second baseman (potentially needing to look into re-signing Daniel Murphy).
Zobrist, one of the game's most fundamentally sound and versatile players, was appealing to the Nationals, but the club wasn't desperate to acquire him. With Anthony Rendon, Yunel Escobar, Danny Espinosa and prospects Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo already in the fold, they have multiple options around the infield.
That said, the Nationals' interest in Zobrist was legitimate, and general manager Mike Rizzo met with his representatives multiple times at the Opryland Resort this week.
"We put a nice, hard push to acquire a really good player, and we'll see what place he chooses to play," Rizzo said Tuesday afternoon, before Zobrist made his final selection. "But we put a good effort in place, and we think he's a guy that would help his club."
In the end, familiarity may have been the deciding factor for Zobrist. Having spent most of his career playing for Joe Maddon with the Rays, the 34-year-old now is reunited with his former manager in Chicago.