How’s that for an attention-getting headline? The semantics behind the word “valuable” is always good for a debate. What exactly is valuable – – is it being the best, the most important, or the most irreplaceable player in the league? I always felt that valuable was in the irreplaceable category, which is why I believe the Tampa Bay Rays have one of the game’s most valuable players to date in Ben Zobrist. While Evan Longoria might be the best player the Rays have, Tampa would be lost without their utility man.
What makes Zobrist so special is his ability to not only play a variety of positions on the field, but to play them without any defensive inefficiencies. Players like Zobrist always have some value to a team, even if they can’t hit worth a lick. Zobrist, however, is one of the most patient, efficient hitters in Major League Baseball.
Zobrist’s 14.5 BB% was near the top of the leaderboard, making him an interesting play at the leadoff spot for Joe Maddon’s squad. Coming into this season, Zobrist’s role might be a little more defined compared to year’s past. Yunel Escobar is definitely going to be the everyday shortstop, while the newly acquired Kelly Johnson could see a lot of time at second base. With Wil Myers, reportedly, starting the season in the Triple-A, I believe Zobrist’s role will be in the outfield, unless Maddon is really set on the defensive wizard, Sam Fuld, in left field. And even if Zobrist doesn’t have a set position, that’s all the proof you need to see why he is so valuable. The Rays have an above average hitter at four potential positions if they need it, giving them roster flexibility no one else has.
It’s time to start giving Zobrist some credit as one of baseball’s most valuable players, because the Rays would not be where they are now without him.