Ben Zobrist, one of the most versatile players and best bargains in Major League Baseball since becoming a full-time player with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009, has a new home. 

After playing more than 1,000 MLB games with the Rays, Zobrist has been traded to the Oakland Athletics, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports:

An offseason of change continues for the Rays, who lost their best front office man when Andrew Friedman joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. Manager Joe Maddon exercised an opt-out clause in his contract and moved to the Chicago Cubs

Trading Zobrist is the latest sign that the era of Rays baseball that we knew, which produced great success for seven years, is no more.

The Rays were thought to be contenders for a playoff spot in 2014—no surprise since they made the postseason in 2013 and won at least 90 games five times from 2008 to 2013—but a rash of injuries and poor performances left them with a huge hole to climb out of last season. 

Last summer, before the Rays went into sell mode and moved David Price, Peter Gammons, during an appearance on the Dennis & Callahan radio show in Boston, via, said the team was close to a deal involving Zobrist going to Seattle before pulling the plug on it:

I know this: Tampa Bay really thinks it has a chance. Now their pitching has come back together again, I talked to people in Seattle who thought they were very close to a deal for Ben Zobrist and they said the Rays pulled back the last couple of days because they want to take it right down to the last 48 hours before the deadline.

Since Tampa Bay can’t compete financially with other teams in the American League East, it has to make some drastic moves in order to field a competitive team. No player has better exemplified the Rays’ style during their run of success than Zobrist, who has played every position except pitcher and catcher at some point in his career. 

A sixth-round pick by Houston in the 2004 draft, Zobrist and Mitch Talbot were dealt to Tampa Bay in July 2006 for Aubrey Huff. Zorilla debuted on Aug. 1, 2006, and played 145 games through 2008 before becoming a regular in 2009. 

The 2009 season saw Zobrist turn in a superstar campaign with a .297/.405/.543 line and 27 home runs. He finished eighth in AL MVP voting that year. The Rays signed the versatile utility player to a contract extension in 2010 that includes a $7.5 million option for 2015 that looks like a bargain now. 

The Rays picked up Zobrist’s option for 2015, which is no surprise given how cheap it is compared to what he would be worth on the open market. He told Adam Berry of at the time that it was a thrill to know Tampa Bay is where he would be playing in 2015:

I’m absolutely ecstatic that they picked up the option for 2015. The fact that I have been here as long as I have makes this very special to me. When I first signed this contract, I thought then that if we got to the point where they picked up the options, that would be icing on the cake and that both sides would be really happy. And that’s how it has played out.

Dealing cost-controlled assets isn’t something that Tampa Bay usually does, especially with the market it plays in, but the Rays were stuck in limbo this deadline season and had to make tough choices. 

It also doesn’t help that the farm system is lacking in impact talent at all levels, ranking 23rd on analyst Keith Law’s (Insider subscription required) preseason list last year, but especially at the upper levels so they can’t supplement any injured player with a cheap player at the minor league level. 

Zobrist’s presence gave the Rays versatility that few players can match. Now, the talented utility player will bring his versatile all-around ability to a new manager who can take advantage of those unique gifts. 


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