Evan Longoria is the best position player the Tampa Bay Rays have ever seen. But though his 160 games played in 2013 was a major boost to the Rays’ playoff hopes, he cannot be termed as the Rays’ most reliable all-around player. That title goes to Ben Zobrist. The past five years, Zobrist has played 150 or more games each season. After DL stints in 2006 and 2007 for an oblique strain and thumb surgery, Zobrist has not been back since. The crazy thing, though, is that as players age, they are considered a threat for injury no matter how durable they have been. Zobrist has been limited in Rays camp with some soreness in his back just months before he will turn 33 years of age. Even though all the indications are that he will be fine long before the season starts, our knee-jerk reaction has to be “oh no, is this when he begins to crumble?” because of his age. What is amazing, though, is that it took until now for us to come to this point.
The past five years, Ben Zobrist has done it all. He has played every position but pitcher and catcher, proving himself capable at nearly every one. He has not batted an eye as he has moved from shortstop, right field, to second base, and back time after time. After breaking out in 2009, Zobrist had every right to settle down at one position. Instead, he has continue moving around, providing the Rays with the flexibility they need to put their best lineup on the field for every game. Zobrist has batted in every batting order position, giving Joe Maddon an option to get on base at the top of his lineup or drive in runs from the middle. His talents from both sides of the plate as a switch-hitter only give pitchers a harder time. There have been years, like 2009 and 2013, was his power did not surface as well as the Rays would have hoped, but it did other things to remain a productive player, stealing bases and never taking struggles at the plate into the field. Other players always get credit for carrying the team, but no matter what is happening with the Rays, Zobrist is always right in the thick of it. He has been so good that we are all guilty of taking him a little too much for granted. Maybe now that Zobrist is out for the first time in way too long, maybe now we can begin to realize just how valuable he is.
I have no idea whether it is better to love and loss or to not love at all. One thing I do know is that once you have lost something, you appreciate it significantly more when you get it back. We go crazy about Longoria during his hot streaks because we remember when he was on the shelf. Hopefully this can be the same to a lesser extent for Ben Zobrist. This is not Ben Zobrist’s year to implode. But whether it is by aging or his departure from Tampa Bay, there is only a limited of time we have left to see Zobrist start for the Rays. Let’s appreciate every second of it.