Ben Zobrist Day: The Trade | The Process Report

Ben Zobrist Day: The Trade

When the Rays traded Aubrey Huff to the Astros in July 2006, for shortstop Ben Zobrist and right-handed starter Mitch Talbot, the move registered as anticlimactic. Huff popped up in a new rumor every other week over the past year-plus. The University of Miami product appealed to contending teams for obvious reasons. His left-handed thump and defensive versatility made him a fit on most clubs. Mired in a rebuilding process, the Rays desired additional youth; Huff’s pending free agency no doubt influenced their decision to make a trade as well.

The real package lacked the sizzle of rumored returns. At one point, about a year before, the Rays were supposedly involved in three-way trade talks with the Red Sox and Mets. The Rays would have traded Huff, Danys Baez, and Julio Lugo for a combination of prospects. Although the return varied depending on the source, some combination of Anibal Sanchez, Yusmeiro Petit, Kelly Shoppach, and Lastings Milledge was involved; with the Rays supposedly asking for Hanley Ramirez and/or Jon Lester as well.

But any reminder of those rumors soured the outlook on the return. Zobrist and Talbot ranked 16th and 26th in the Astros system, according to Baseball America; a system that included future Rays like Luke Scott and Brooks Conrad, and one that assistant general manager Gerry Hunsicker had pieced together during his time as Houston’s GM.

The publication considered Talbot the inferior prospect. Of him they wrote, “[Hasn’t] grown into the velocity the Astros expected when they made him a second-round pick in 2002.” Talbot had also not developed a reliable breaking ball, though BA added,”he’s still an interesting pitching prospect with the best changeup in the system.” Whatever flaws Talbot had were quickly ignored after a strong 66 1/3-inning effort in Montgomery that saw him allow just 16 runs. Talbot made his big-league debut with the Rays in 2008. Later, after the 2009 season, the Rays traded him to Cleveland for Kelly Shoppach.

Meanwhile Zobrist’s writeup said he had, “solid-average tools across the board, with the exception of power.” The Southern Atlantic League managers named him the hitter with the best strike-zone discipline in the league. As for Zobrist’s future position, BA said, “He’s bigger and doesn’t have the range of a typical shortstop, but his instincts enable him to make the plays required at the position.” As well as, “He continues to remind the Astros of quintessential utilityman Bill Spiers, but they also says it’s too early to write Zobrist off as a regular shortstop.”

There were other reasons to not get excited about Zobrist. Drafted at age 23, after spending four years in college (including some time on the mound), Zobrist was an overage prospect compiling impressive statistics against younger competition. The questions about his long-term defensive home were soon answered. Zobrist headed to Durham and stayed at shortstop while B.J. Upton transitioned to third base. Both made their big-league seasonal debuts later in the season. Though Zobrist eventually lost his starting job and moved off the position, he surpassed the Spiers comparisons thanks to some daring mechanical tweaks and hard work.

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