People talk all the time about how Andrew Friedman’s deal for Ben Zobrist at the 2006 Trade Deadline may have been his finest trade in his time with the Rays. The only thing better was the extention he signed him to in April of 2010. The Rays got Zobrist to agree to a four-year, $18 million deal contract with two team options, and Zobrist quickly proved himself to be one of baseball’s greatest bargains. Now, however, Zobrist is no longer making peanuts. After the Rays exercised his 2014 option, Zobrist will make $7 million in 2014, and he is set to make $7.5 million in 2015. Zobrist is still worth every penny, but now the price is getting steeper and Zobrist is slowly but surely getting too expensive for the Rays to keep–or at least it would be under normal circumstances. Ben Zobrist is the heart and soul of the Tampa Bay Rays, and right now is the time to make sure his tenure with the team goes beyond the next two years.
Evan Longoria is the leader of the Rays and the best position player they have ever had, but Zobrist has exemplified everything that the team stands for. He is the quintessential undervalued player, doing everything in his power to help the team. Failing to hit in 2006 and 2007 led to him adjusting to a utility role, but he retained his versatility even when his bat picked up, going anywhere the Rays needed him to be to put their best lineup on the field in each game. But it was not just the versatility. Despite never playing the outfield until he arrived in the major leagues, Zobrist crafted himself into one of the best defensive right fielders in baseball, and he became a great defender at second base as well. And in 2012, when the Rays were desperate for a quality shortstop, Zobrist moved to the position despite not playing there regularly since 2008.
The Rays have become famous for taking flawed players, making an adjustment, and watching them take off. That is especially the case with relievers, but one of the first and best examples is Zobrist. The Rays opened up his stance to try to harness his power, and the result was a strong year as a backup in 2008 before he broke out in 2009. Unlike some other cases, though, Zobrist never really fell back to earth. Zobrist emerged as one of the Rays’ most reliable players, becoming a middle of the order hitter and providing value with his defense even when his bat wasn’t going. Most impressive, though, may be that Zobrist did not land on the disabled list a single time after thumb surgery sidelined him back in 2009, becoming one of just six players to register at least 655 plate appearances the last four years and the only player in Rays history to do so multiple times. So much of the Rays’ roster changes year after year. Zobrist proves enough stability that they do just that and find a way to contend every season.
Making extension talks much easier is Zobrist’s age. Zobrist did not break out until age 27 in 2008 and will turn 33 years of age next May. When Zobrist finally hits free agency, he will be set to turn 35 over the course of the following season. Zobrist will have time for just one big payday in his career. Given how great of a time he has experienced in Tampa Bay, we have to think he will want that to come with the Rays. A three-year, $30 million deal on top of what he has now would give the Rays control of Zobrist through his age 37 season and give him financial security for the rest of his life. The Rays extended Longoria even when the monetary commitment was so much more. Zobrist is just as big of a part of what they have been doing and they have no excuse not to get a deal done.