By Rich Herrera
Last Week Manager Jim Leyland picked Ben Zobrist to represent the Rays in this year’s All Star Game. In recent years the Rays had come along way from being one of those teams that people questioned, do we really need to have an All Star from Tampa Bay. The Rays have been one of the Winningest teams in baseball since 2008. The Rays have had multiple All Stars ever since. This season with the team teetering in the middle of the pack in the American League we had long conversations about who should go to New York for the All Star Game. When MLB announced the players for the game, many scratched their heads at the selection of Ben Zobrist. No way was it slight to Zobrist, more of a surprise as Ben wasn’t the first name to pop into your head when talking Rays All Stars for 2013.
You might have went the automatic choice of Evan Longoria, been there done that, and a one time starter at 3rd base and the heir apparent of greatness at the hot corner. You might have thought of Matt Moore and his dozen wins and how he started the season so strong. I mentioned James Loney who I felt had done as much to carry the Rays offense as anyone else this season. So when baseball fans were scratching their heads at the selection of Ben Zobrist.
Leyland in picking the Rays super Utility player showed how much baseball has looked at what the Rays are all about and admired the way Andrew Freidman has decided to evaluate talent. In picking Zobrist Leyland chose a player who will help him win in many different ways. Zobrist is a multi positional player that Leyland can ask to play 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Short, and any of the OF spots. He can ask him to lay down a bunt, hit the ball the other way, hit behind the runner to move him along, sacrifice or put the ball in play, and oh yes he has pop to hit a game winning homer. By picking Zobrist Leyland has a wild card at the end of the game for his use. He gets to use the player that Joe Maddon asked to bring half dozen gloves to the ballpark everyday.
While some fans grouse and complain about Joe Maddon and his triangulation of lineups everyday. For noow Joe has had fewer gyrations in his line up with Wil Myers coming to the big leagues and playing each day. That has locked Matt Joyce into the Left Field slot and Ben Zobrist locked in at 2nd base most days. The Rays really see only one true platoon position at catchers will Loney playing more and more everyday at 1st. Players will get days off now and then as Maddon wants to keep his players fresh and get them off their feet, so we will see Sean Rodriguez and Kelly Johnson getting playing time as well. But part of the charm if you will of this club was the mixing and matching of players and never ever knowing what would happen to the line up from day to day. While some others hated it, I appreciated it since it put players in the best position to succeed while limiting their exposure to situations that they struggle in.
Other teams with a rigid way of looking for what players cant do, this team looked for what you could do. That way of trying to look at things outside the box let Ben Zobrist become an All Star when the Astros couldn’t see what they Rays saw in the Rays 2013 All Star, Ben Zobrist.