Rays bid farewell to Zobrist in five-player deal with A's
Escobar also heads to Oakland; Tampa Bay reunites with Jaso, adds two prospects
ST. PETERSBURG -- Most figured Ben Zobrist would be elsewhere in 2015. On Saturday, that speculation came to fruition when the Rays traded one of the most popular players in team history to the A's. The surprise came in the fact that Yunel Escobar joined him.
In return for their shortstop and utility man, the Rays received catcher John Jaso and a pair of prospects, shortstop Daniel Robertson and outfielder Boog Powell.
"It's an emotional and meaningful day as we bid farewell to Ben Zobrist and thank him for everything he's meant to the Rays' organization," said Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman. "Any description of his value, talent and character would understate how we feel about Ben, and we consider ourselves fortunate for all our great moments together."
The 33-year-old Zobrist is one of the game's most versatile players. He appeared in games at second base, left field, shortstop, right field and center field last season while hitting .272/.354/.395 with 10 home runs. The two-time All-Star will be a free agent following the season.
Zobrist leaves as the franchise's career leader in doubles (229) and walks (542) and ranks second to Carl Crawford in games played (1,064), hits (1,016), triples (32) and runs scored (565). His seven years, 134 days of service time with the Rays has been topped only by Crawford (eight years, 72 days).
Acquired from the Astros in 2006 as part of a trade for Aubrey Huff, Zobrist grew into a two-time All-Star (2009, '13) and became the first Major League player on record to appear in 200 games at second base, shortstop and right field. Over the past four seasons, he leads all switch-hitters with 236 extra-base hits and ranks second with 632 hits. His 504 walks since 2009 rank fifth in the Majors, while his 483 unintentional walks lead the Majors during that span.
Escobar, 32, hit .258/.324/.340 with seven homers in 137 games last season. He has two years and $13 million remaining on his deal, plus a club option for 2017.
Silverman noted that "Jaso coming back was key to us in the transaction."
"He's the kind of offensive player that our lineup had been missing against right-handed pitching," Silverman said. "And we're looking forward to great production at the plate from him."
Jaso, 31, was drafted by the Rays in the 12th round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. He first reached the Major Leagues in 2008 when he hit .200 in five games. He joined the Rays for good in 2010 and enjoyed an excellent rookie season in which he hit .263/.372/.378 with five home runs and 44 RBIs.
The Rays traded Jaso to the Mariners for right-hander Josh Lueke before the 2012 season. Jaso was behind the plate when Mariners ace Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game against the Rays in Seattle that season.
The Mariners traded Jaso to the Athletics on Jan. 16, 2013, as part of a three-team deal involving the Mariners, Athletics and Nationals.
Jaso's last two seasons have ended prematurely due to concussions, missing the final 33 games in 2014 and 60 games in 2013. That would seem to cast some doubts on just how much he will be used behind the plate.
"In terms of his position, we're looking at him as a hitter first," said Silverman, who noted that Jaso has been cleared to play. "But he has versatility, whether that's as a catcher or another position, but I know he's eager to explore that versatility during Spring Training and making himself as useful as possible to the club."
In addition to being able to catch, Jaso can be used at first base, designated hitter and perhaps some outfield. Based on the perceived restrictions the club might use where Jaso's catching is concerned, it would not be a stretch to see the Rays carry three catchers, including newly acquired Rene Rivera and perhaps Curt Casilla.
In six Major League seasons, Jaso has hit .259/.359/.399 with 32 home runs and 182 RBIs.
Silverman called the prospects acquired "very interesting."
MLB.com ranked Robertson, 20, as the A's top prospect. He is an offensive shortstop and uses a short stroke to make consistent contact with a hit-to-all-fields approach. He projects to being able to hit for power in the future.
"He's the kind of prospect that's difficult to get your hands on," Silverman said. "And it takes a trade, a large trade like this, to be able to acquire someone of his talents."
Playing for Class A Stockton in 2014, Robertson hit .310 with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs.
Though Robertson is a below-average runner, he can make plays at shortstop thanks to his arm strength and his instincts. His ability to read balls off the bat gives him deceptive range, and he was said to have the softest hands in the A's system. If Robertson has to change positions, his bat will still profile well at second or third base.
"He's a baseball player," Silverman said. "He's someone who has great baseball skills. [He] can play in the middle of the diamond. [He] has a hitter's mentality. And has great potential to grow into an everyday player.
"Prospects by nature are uncertain. But he's the kind of guy we're willing to make a bet on and hope that he can make an impact in our organization for many years to come."
Powell, 21, was ranked by MLB.com as the A's 11th-best prospect. He has drawn praise for his ability to play bigger than his size (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) and his tools. He has solid speed and center-field skills, and he has controlled the strike zone very well in pro ball. Though he lacks power and has an average arm, he fits the center-field profile well if he can continue to get on base.
"His value shows up in many different ways on the field," Silverman said. "We'll put him in the outfield and keep him in the outfield and see what he can do and let him develop. But he's the kind of guy, with the tools that he has, has a chance to be a good Major League player. We'll have the patience to let him develop at his own pace."
Robertson: He appeared to be the heir apparent at shortstop in Oakland after the Athletics traded Addison Russell to the Cubs last summer, but now Robertson is on the move as well. Signed for $1.5 million as 34th overall pick in the 2012 Draft, he stands out most for his offense. He makes consistent line-drive contact with a short stroke and and he has the strength and bat speed to grow into at least an average player. He hit .310/.402/.471 with 15 homers as a 20-year-old at high Class A Stockton in 2014, leading the California League with 170 hits and 37 doubles. Robertson lacks the typical quickness of a shortstop, but his instincts, hand and arm strength give him a chance to stay at the position.
Powell: A 20th-round pick who signed for $20,000 out of Orange Coast (Calif.) JC in 2012, Powell broke out in 2014 by hitting .343/.451/.435 with 15 steals between two Class A stops at age 21 and earning MVP honors at the Midwest League all-star game. He did miss 50 games with a midseason suspension after testing positive for an amphetamine, though he did come back from that to perform well in the Arizona Fall League. Powell has three solid tools in his bat, speed and center-field skills. He controls the strike zone, which should allow him to hit for average, though some scouts worry that his swing can get long and might not work as well against more advanced pitching.
-- Jim Callis