Tampa Bay Rays: Looking for the Next Retired Number
Ben Zobrist (2006-2014)
Acquired in the trade that sent Aubrey Huff to Houston, Ben Zobrist was the Tampa Bay Rays secret utility weapon.
It took some time for Zobrist to be recognized as one of the better players in the game as he was one of the first super utility players. However, advanced stats loved what Zobrist brought to the table. He consistently ranked amongst the leaders in WAR, and twice led American League position players in the metric. Eventually, fans caught on to the underrated player, making Zobrist the star he deserved to be.
Yet, even with this newfound recognition, Zobrist still did not get the accolades he deserved. He continued to fly under the radar, making two All Star Games and only finishing in the top ten in the MVP vote once. However, he proved extremely valuable to the Rays, producing an excellent .264/.354/.429 batting line, hitting 114 homers and stealing 102 bases.
As strong of an offensive talent as Zobrist was, his greatest value came from his ability to play virtually anywhere on the field. With the Rays, he played every position except for pitcher and catcher, although he likely would have ended up at either position if the need arose. He had over 200 games at second, short, and right with Tampa Bay, giving Joe Maddon incredible flexibility with his lineup.
The prototype for the super utility players of today, Ben Zobrist was one of the best players in baseball that no one paid attention to. However, the Rays certainly realized what they had with Zobrist quickly, turning him into a star.