Ben Zobrist Day: The Contract | The Process Report

Ben Zobrist Day: The Contract

Evan Longoria has signed the most famous contract extension during Andrew Friedman’s time as general manager twice. James Shields, Wade Davis, and Matt Moore received pre-arbitration deals as well, and one day Chris Archer and Wil Myers may join them. In terms of value, however, Friedman’s master stroke may have been the pact he agreed upon in April 2010 with Ben Zobrist.

The contract guaranteed four years and $18 million, and covered the 2010-2013 seasons with additional option seasons. At most the deal could become a six-year agreement topping more than $30 million once bonuses and incentives were factored in. Knowing what we know know about Zobrist—one of the best, most versatile players in the American League—and the ever increasing cost of talent on the open market, the deal has been a steal for the Rays. This reward despite what was fair to characterize as a sizable risk at the time of the inking. 

Zobrist was given the opportunity to be the Rays’ primary shortstop upon his arrival from Houston. He was so-so defensively but his offensive performance—or lack thereof—required an elite level of defense to justify more playing time. Out of necessity, he diversified his defensive portfolio, logging time at six different positions in 2008. While his defensive flexibility offered value, he was still a career .222/.279/.370 hitter heading in to 2009.

Whether you believe to be because of serendipity, swing mechanics, or hard work and dedication, things clicked for Zobrist in 2009. Now playing seven different positions, the 28-year-old hit .297/.405/.573 in 151 games. He was named to the All-Star team and finished in the top-10 of MVP voting.

As we entered in to the 2010 season nobody really knew who was the real Ben Zobrist. Was he the light-hitting infielder who amassed 530 plate appearances from 2006-2008 with an OPS of .649? Or was he Zorilla? The man-beast who produced a .978 OPS in 599 plate appearances in 2009. The Rays gambled on the latter and have reaped the benefits of that bet ever since.

Though unable to re-capture the magic of 2009, Zobrist hit .259/.359/.433 in nearly 2,000 plate appearances from 2010-2012. Aside from the contributions at the plate, he became a master of two positions defensively (second base and right field) which allowed the team to operate with valuable roster flexibility. When the team needed a shortstop down the stretch last season, he returned to his old stomping grounds and help solidify an infield that spent most of the season in flux.

Over the past three seasons, Zobrist has made $10 million. Depending on your wins above replacement metric of choice, he contributed between 12 and 20 wins over those years. Considering the cost of one win on the open market—Indians President Mark Shapiro estimates it to be about $9 million per win—the Rays’ calculated but risky, investment has paid off dividends typically reserved for players in their cost control years. And, with three years at $20 million (including 2013), Zobrist should continue to add to his net value.

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