Zobrist, Rays reach long-term extension
Deal for versatile 'heartbeat' of club could be worth almost $30M
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist and the Rays reached an agreement Friday on a five-year contract extension that could be worth almost $30 million.
The first three years of the extension are guaranteed, with the team holding options for the 2014 and '15 seasons, which covers Zobrist's first two years of free agency.
The club said Zobrist will earn just less than $30 million if the club picks up both of those options.
"I'm just extremely grateful to be sitting up here," Zobrist said at Friday's news conference at Tropicana Field. "I got my first shot at the big leagues with the Rays. And the Rays gave that to me, and I think back to that time and how far we've come in the last couple of years, and just the excitement for me and my family that it's been to play baseball in the Major Leagues, and [I] just feel very grateful."
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman called Friday another "exciting day for the Rays and their fans."
"When considering a deal of this magnitude, we feel that three of the most important qualities are ability, work ethic and character, which is exactly why we're sitting here today and [that] speaks volumes to what we think of Ben," Friedman said. "If the young players in our Minor League system are curious about what it takes to receive a long-term contract, Ben is a great example.
"He works extremely hard. Plays for his teammates. And is driven by wins on the field. This agreement further demonstrates our investment in the organization and our commitment to the blueprint we laid out. Create a winning culture. Aid the development of our young players. And have them be a part of this organization for many years."
Friedman called Zobrist "one of our most important players" in every aspect of the game.
"As a strong defender both in the infield and outfield, his versatility is nearly unmatched, and his approach at the plate has made him one of the best switch-hitters in baseball," Friedman said. "He works hard, plays the game right and is exactly the kind of player and person we want as part of this organization."
Zobrist will donate up to $450,000 during the life of the contract to the Rays Baseball Foundation, the team's charitable arm that supports youth and education programs in the Tampa Bay region. In the past, the organization has taken proactive approaches by signing Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, James Shields, Carlos Pena, Scott Kazmir, Evan Longoria, Kelly Shoppach, Willy Aybar, Pat Burrell and Dan Wheeler to multi-year contracts and all have provided donations to the Rays Baseball Foundation.
Zobrist, who was accompanied by his wife, Juliana, and their 1-year-old son, Zion, called signing the extension a "no-brainer" for the couple.
"This is a dream that a lot of players would love to [have] in their career," Zobrist said. "It was definitely a career goal of mine to be able to stay somewhere for an extended period of time. ... We wanted to be here. We love it here. We love the community, and we've grown to love many people here and our fans -- and the organization."
Zobrist has been a huge success story for Tampa Bay. He's gone from a bust in 2007 to the team MVP (as voted by the writers who cover the team) in '09 after hitting .297 with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs.
Zobrist began the 2007 season as the team's shortstop but was sent down after a slow start. Zobrist cut a somber figure in Baltimore's visiting clubhouse after receiving the news that he would be heading to Triple-A Durham.
That demotion "was the beginning of the bottom," Zobrist told reporters this spring. "That whole year was kind of the bottom for me and culminated in getting injured at the end of the year. Straining an oblique, which is an odd injury for me, that whole year was tumultuous and a test and a trial.
"It's something that made me stronger, because I did have to fight through it. It made me believe and have faith that all things that happen to me, just because it may be negative circumstances, doesn't mean it's going to be negative overall unless I allow it to be."
Zobrist worked hard to salvage his career, turning from a Punch-and-Judy contact hitter to a legitimate power threat. He came to the Rays, along with right-hander Mitch Talbot, in a trade that sent Aubrey Huff to the Astros on July 12, 2006.
Longoria called Zobrist the "heartbeat" of last year's team.
"We kind of looked to Zoe to do something spectacular every night, and he continued to do it," Longoria said in February. "He never disappointed. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he does this year. If nothing else, bring that charisma and spirit he has to the field every day.
"He's always upbeat. He's got a great attitude. He loves being at the baseball field. He's a guy that you can go to and talk to about anything. He's just a fun guy to be around."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.