NASHVILLE — Ben Zobrist, among the most-popular free agents on the market this winter, is likely to make a decision this week, and the Nationals are among the final suitors for the versatile veteran.
Zobrist, who lives in Nashville, is scheduled to meet with Nationals officials in town for the Winter Meetings on Tuesday, a source familiar with the talks confirmed. He already met in the last week with the Mets and Giants, believed to be the two other finalists to sign him.
The Nationals have long been intrigued by Zobrist, whose ability to play multiple positions makes him attractive to a host of other clubs. They engaged in trade talks with the Rays last winter, but Tampa Bay dealt him and infielder Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for catcher John Jaso and two prospects. (Escobar then was flipped to the Nats for reliever Tyler Clippard.)
The Nationals made another attempt to acquire Zobrist over the summer but watched as the A’s sent him to Kansas City for a pair of prospects. Now he’s finally available as a free agent, though the price tag will be significant.
Zobrist, 34, is believed to be seeking a 4-year contract, a commitment the Mets reportedly are willing to make. It remains to be seen whether the Nationals will go that far for a player who will be 39 years old during the majority of the fourth season of a new contract.
There’s no denying Zobrist’s potential value to the Nationals, who would probably view him primarily as a second baseman but would also want him to back up Jayson Werth in left field and (on rare occasions) Bryce Harper in right field. A switch-hitter with a career .363 on-base percentage and .802 OPS in seven seasons as a big-league regular, Zobrist would give the Nationals a much-needed left-handed bat to complement Harper, not to mention another veteran clubhouse leader.
Money obviously will play a role in Zobrist’s decision, but if all three presumed finalists make 4-year offers, his ultimate choice may have more to do with where he feels most comfortable and believes he has the best chance to win. The Nationals obviously offer a good opportunity for success, but the Mets are defending NL champions while the Giants own three World Series rings in the last six years.
The Washington Post was first to report Zobrist’s scheduled meeting Tuesday with the Nationals.