Rays Lock Up Zobrist

The Rays have just ensured that their 3-4 combination of Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria will spend many more years together. We learned this morning that the Rays would announce an extension for their multi-position star, a three-year guaranteed deal. The deal will also include two team options for Zobrist’s first two years of free agency. While the exact financial details aren’t known as I write this, R.J. Anderson has the right idea: “Long-term deals in pre-arb are like 99% guaranteed to look good for the team.”

This one looks good right from the start. The Rays have hedged their own risk by turning Zobrist’s first two years of free agency into team options. If Zobrist continues to perform near the level he did in 2009 — or even his 2008 level — the Rays can get up to two more years of that production at a discounted rate. If he doesn’t live up to those standards, the Rays can let him go at little cost to the organization. The only way the Rays lose is if Zobrist’s production declines significantly over the next three years. That, however, does not appear likely.

Zobrist might have earned a poor reputation, at least among frequent spectators, in 2006 and 2007, when he looked like a light-hitting utility player. He didn’t walk much, he didn’t hit for power, and even his batting average looked horrible. Still, in the minors he did a fine job. In 2006, he spent most of his year destroying Texas League pitching, posting a .410 wOBA for Houston’s AA squad. After the Astros sent him to Tampa Bay in the Aubrey Huff deal, Zobrist struggled at bit at AAA before earning a call-up in August.

Again, in 2007, Zobrist performed well in the minors, posting a .391 wOBA in the AAA International League, mostly on the strength of his .403 OBP. Still, the results in the majors were discouraging, especially his walk rate. Major league pitchers, it seemed, just didn’t want to walk a guy with an ISO of .052. In 2008, however, we saw some improvement from Zobrist. After utterly demolishing AAA, a .464 wOBA to start the season, Zobrist came up in late June and, other than a low BA, hit pretty well, a .364 wOBA in 227 PA. Most encouragingly, his walk rate rose from 5.1 and 2.9 percent during his 2006 and 2007 stints, to 11 percent in 2008.

Everything came together in 2009. Zobrist’s .408 wOBA ranked third among AL hitters, trailing just Joe Mauer and Kevin Youkilis. Even better, he did it while playing excellent defense at not only second base, but also in the outfield. It’s no wonder, then, that he led the AL in WAR at 8.3. Only Franklin Gutierrez posted a better fielding component. His flexibility adds another bonus, in that manager Joe Maddon can play the hot hand wherever he fits, moving Zobrist to any spot on the diamond. Except catcher, of course. If Zobrist could catch, well, he might solve one of the Rays’ few issues.

This year Zobrist is off to a slow start, but it sounds like just that. Once his walk rate comes back up and his strikeout rate falls back to normal levels, the rest of his game should fall into line. That could be a scary prospect for the American League. The Rays already lead the league in runs per game, 5.81, and a hot Zobrist will only make them better. Much to the joy of the Rays faithful, they’ll get to watch him for what will probably be the next five years. At some point during that span it’s possible that he and Longoria represent the best 3-4 combination in the game, while costing less than one component of the Yankees’ 3-4. That’s how a good small market club must operate. The Rays have struck again.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Patrick
Guest
Patrick
6 years 5 months ago

Go Zorilla!

Bradley Woodrum
Member
Member
6 years 5 months ago

Good stuff, Joe.

“The Rays have hedged their own risk…”

The finance guys who run the Rays are probably giddy that somebody else speaks their language. I’m pretty sure we can file this whole transaction under “F” for “Friedman’d!”

Mike
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

For some reason, I have never bought into the Zobrist hype…I still don’t. He had a good year last year, but it wasn’t a great year. He is a little above league average, I don’t picture him as an every day #3 hitter personally. He could prove me wrong, but I definitely do not buy into Zobrist Hype.

suicide squeeze
Member
Member
suicide squeeze
6 years 5 months ago

“He had a good year last year, but it wasn’t a great year.”

So if Zobrist didn’t have a great year last year, who did?

DavidCEisen
Guest
DavidCEisen
6 years 5 months ago

Yeah, I guess Chase Utley didn’t have a great year either, or anyone not named Pujols or Mauer.

The Hit Dog
Guest
The Hit Dog
6 years 5 months ago

“He had a good year last year, but it wasn’t a great year.”

He hit .297/.405/.543 with +23 runs in the field. It’s fine if you thought this was a fluke, but your above statement is simply, and verifiably, incorrect.

TBO_Rays
Guest
TBO_Rays
6 years 5 months ago

TBO_Rays: “$18 million guaranteed through 2013, club options at $7 million and $7.5 million in 2014 and 2015.”

Ivdown
Guest
Ivdown
6 years 5 months ago

What a friggin deal. Ughhhh. Why is not one young Dodger locked up past 2011 but the Rays have 1 definite stud locked up for half his career and another potential studly player until at least 2013, possibly 2015? It’s not fair…why can’t the Dodgers have Friedman? :(

Joser
Member
Joser
6 years 5 months ago

why can’t the Dodgers have Friedman? :(

Maybe one of the McCourts can sue to have custody of him in the divorce. It’ll probably be the one that ends up without the team, though.

Kampfer
Guest
Kampfer
6 years 5 months ago

That is robbery… this guy is worth that money even if he just stays cold… His glove ALONE worths that much.

Joser
Member
Joser
6 years 5 months ago

And yet it’s not even as good a deal as they got with Longoria. Clearly there’s something in the water in Tampa that clouds mens’ minds. (Or actually, clouds agents’ minds, which is even more impressive.)

It’ll be interesting to see if they can use the same Dark Arts to swing a deal for that snazzy downtown outdoor stadium.

Paul Thomas
Guest
Paul Thomas
6 years 5 months ago

I’m just amazed. Do the Rays have some kind of mind-altering ray that causes players to sign bizarrely favorable contracts just for kicks or something?

They literally have the three most team-favorable deals in the entire major leagues right now.

Jon
Guest
Jon
6 years 5 months ago

That’s true, but I think part of what gets lost in the shuffle with the Longoria deal is that he had one week of service time when the deal was signed. So he had as little leverage as he could possibly have had when negotiating a long-term deal. I think you could quibble over the price paid for the option years, but there’s something to be said for the fact that he signed a deal to take care of himself financially for the rest of his life in a situation where he had very little room to demand more money.

JT
Guest
JT
6 years 5 months ago

It doesn’t require “mind-altering rays” to justify this deal. If you offered me the choice of $25 million guaranteed or an 80% chance of 50 million, it would be an easy decision to take the $25 million. Money has a massively declining utility curve.

Zobrist looks like he’s made 1.6m total in his 4 years. Locking in $18 million probably sounds quite good, especially for someone who last year at this time didn’t have any security in his major league career.

Also, how much would he really have made in arbitration? I don’t think arbitrators would have paid him the normal 40/60/80 approximation of his true value–he’s the type of player who they devalue. I doubt he gets much more than 18 million, if that, so he really traded the two team options on 2014/2015 for great financial security now. Would any of you have made a different choice?

Phantom Stranger
Guest
Phantom Stranger
6 years 5 months ago

Zobrist is a nice player, but we may have seen his career year in 2009. This is a good contract only because of the limited downside from a Rays’ perspective.

Jon
Guest
Jon
6 years 5 months ago

Not to sound snarky, but isn’t it the definition of a good deal when you take part in a low-risk, high-upside transaction?

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
6 years 5 months ago

I would upgrade from “may have seen his career year” to “nearly certainly saw his career year”. Not that I’m expecting a crash-and-burn by any means, but there’s just not much room to the upside coming off of an 8.3 WAR season.

(I would guess we likely saw Mauer’s also, for similar reasons.)

Double06
Member
Double06
6 years 5 months ago

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe if a team exercises a team option, a player can still opt for free agency. If Zobrist has a great third year and thinks he can get more in the free agent market, I don’t think there’s anything stopping him from declining the Rays.

Josh
Guest
Josh
6 years 5 months ago

You’re thinking of a mutual option.

Team option means they decide if they want him or not and he’s bound. Player option is the same but the player holds the cards. Mutual option, of course, is a mixture of the two.

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