At face value, the Aubrey Huff deal of 2006 didn’t offer much in return. The Rays were trying to get rid of Aubrey Huff’s $6 million salary in a contract year and get something in return. Sure, Huff was a good hitter, but he was making too much for the Rays to handle, so they had to unload him. When the deal went down, Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot were little known prospects without much knowledge of what they would bring. Many thought Zobrist’s ceiling would be as a bench guy at the Big League level. Now, Zobrist has developed into one of the Rays best bats.
When Ben Zobrist first arrived in Tampa Bay in 2006, he struggled at the plate. Same case in 2007. Then, in 2008, Zobrist came into his own. Zobrist found his niche as Joe Maddon’s super-utility man, showing his first strokes of a power swing. In 62 games for the Rays, Zorilla hit .253 with 12 homers. Many lobbied for Zobrist to enter the starting lineup, with the thinking being he will break through when playing consistently. Maddon gave Zobrist the chance in 2009, when he hit .297 with 27 homers. After a struggle in 2010, Zobrist regained his stroke in 2011 and proved to be the Rays second best bat, behind Evan Longoria.
Zobrist enters 2012 as a key piece in the Rays puzzle. Zobrist’s flexibility has allowed him to see a fair share of time at right field, second base, and first base while still providing the same bat wherever he is playing. Not many players can move around and produce, so Zobrist is a rare breed. This year, Zobrist will find a more regular spot, playing most of the time at second, unless, of course, the Rays fail to sign a first baseman.
The other player the Rays received in the deal, Mitch Talbot, did not do much for the Rays. He only appeared in 3 games in 2008 and struggled. That, combined with his good minor league numbers, was good enough for the Cleveland Indians to give the Rays Kelly Shoppach before the 2010 season. While Talbot didn’t directly help the Rays, he did give them a great backup catcher for two seasons. While Shoppach frustrated Rays fans at the plate, he was steady behind it, working well with the young pitching staff and providing a good arm and glove after some long nights of John Jaso.
While it was tough to see Aubrey Huff leave Tampa Bay in 2006, the return turned out to be pretty good. When the deal went down, the Rays seemed to not get much back, receiving two little known minor leaguers who had no Big League experience for a big time hitter in the Rays struggling lineup. While the effect wasn’t clear right away, Huff turned into a big middle of the order hitter in Ben Zobrist and a minor league pitcher, Mitch Talbot, that morphed into a great defensive backup catcher, Kelly Shoppach.